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Churchill polar bear settling in at Winnipeg zoo

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The Assinboine Park Zoo's newest polar bear has arrived in town - just in time for his furry counterpart Hudson's birthday - but he's not on the guest list.

The new polar bear, a three-year-old male bear who gained notoriety last month for attacking a man in Churchill, was flown from the northern town to Winnipeg on Wednesday and will spend the next 30 days in quarantine for health and safety reasons.

Eventually this bear will join Hudson, the two-year-old polar bear which came to Winnipeg after being born at the Toronto Zoo, but the two will live in separate enclosures.

The new bear is the first wild bear to find a new home at the Assinboine Park Zoo's International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC).

The 122-kilogram bear from Churchill will be examined and acclimatized to his new surroundings while in quarantine.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo's director of zoological operations, Dr. Brian Joseph, said staff members are thrilled the newcomer is in the city safe and sound.

"He's here now, we're very happy to have him. He's a cute little bear," said Joseph, with a laugh.

Joseph, head of veterinary services Dr. Chris Enright and general curator Gary Lunsford travelled to Churchill earlier this week to accompany the bear back to Winnipeg.

He said he enjoyed the experience of visiting the community of Churchill, when the bear was being held in a holding facility, and accompanying the new bear to Winnipeg.

"He's 283 pounds, so he's not teensy, tinesy but he's smaller than Hudson. But he's older than Hudson (aged two). He's a three-year old bear but he's been out there on his own and he's had to work for a living," Joseph said. "Hudson's having a good life. He's been well-protected and well-fed. Hudson is about 500 pounds. But this guy, even though he's smaller, he's all muscle because he's been out there earning a living this whole time."

The zoo is holding a birthday celebration for Hudson's second birthday on Friday at beginning at 10 a.m. when the 257-kg Hudson will receive special treats and presents from his keepers.

The first 500 visitors on Friday will receive a free "I Love Hudson" button.

Two talks by zookeepers will be held outside Hudson's enclosure at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

The decision to not euthanize bear from Churchill — in the past, polar bears that attacked people were euthanized — was made last month by zoo and provincial officials shortly after Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh expanded regulations to allow the bear to be brought to Winnipeg.

Garett Kolsun, a Canadian Border Services officer temporarily assigned to work in Churchill, was attacked by the bear on Sept. 7 as he walked alone in the Hudson Bay community.

Kolsun suffered scratches and puncture wounds to his hip. He escaped after diverting the bear's attention with the bright screen of his cellphone.

Prior to travelling to Churchill, Joseph said he was able to meet Kolsun at Canadian Border Services.

"I talked to him, and after I met this little bear, he is really fortunate that he escaped with his life. This little guy is incredibly dangerous," he said. "Even thought they look cute and cuddly, they're very dangerous animals. They're the most efficient predator on earth."

Kolsun told the Free Press after the incident that he is glad the bear was not going to be euthanized.

"It was awfully scary, but I would much rather see it stay alive. They're majestic animals. We want them to be around for future generations. You wouldn't want to see it be euthanized because it was being a bear," Kolsun said.

The bear's life was spared as part of the "Bambi's Law," brought in last July, which makes euthanasia a last resort. The policy change was made after a conservation officer shot a young deer named Bambi at the Windy Bay Colony in southwestern Manitoba.

"The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre was created specifically for situations such as this, where we have a polar bear that unfortunately can’t be returned to the wild," said Dr. Brian Joseph in the press release. "This bear will be an ambassador for its species and the threat to polar bears caused by climate change."

The zoo is open at 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily throughout Thanksgiving weekend.

-- with files from Bruce Owen


Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 10:21 AM CDT: Adds photos.

12:02 PM: Adds comments from new zoo director

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