Hudson the polar bear is getting a roommate at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
The new polar bear, who arrived in Winnipeg from Churchill Wednesday, will eventually live in the same enclosure as Hudson, who has lived there since January.
The new bear, a three-year-old male, is the first wild bear to find a new home at the Assiniboine Park Zoo's International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC). Hudson was born in captivity at the Toronto Zoo before being moved to Winnipeg.
'That's our goal, to have them together so they each have a companion to interact with'
"That's our goal, to have them together so they each have a companion to interact with," said Brian Joseph, the zoo's director of zoological operations. "He's in our conservation facility but Hudson knows he's there. He can smell him, he can hear him. They'll see each other as they're passing by and, at some point, they'll be together."
Joseph said he has worked in facilities where two male polar bears have lived in harmony, including Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., where Blizzard and Glacier, also former residents of Churchill, have shared a habitat for 17 years. "It's not unusual at all to have pairs of males kept together."
The bear will be named by the students of the Duke of Marlborough elementary school in Churchill, Joseph said, in order to forge a bond with that community.
"We think, it's their bear. He came from Churchill. What better way to show that than to have those kids decide what his name is," Joseph said. "One of the things we want to be is an agent of cultural, social and conservation change so we want to form relationships with communities that are genuine and real. We talked about distance learning, virtual field trips that we can have the kids do with us and with our kids here."
The new polar bear, who gained notoriety last month for attacking a man in Churchill, will spend the next 30 days in quarantine for health and safety reasons. Then the introductions can begin.
"We'll come up with the very best plan, the safest plan, to get these bears together. I'm not anticipating any problem because they are young bears and I think that they will probably form a very strong relationship," Joseph said, noting there's no set time frame.
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.
Two-year-old Hudson is younger than the new bear but outweighs him at 226 kilograms. The new bear weighs 128 kilograms.
"He's been out there on his own and he's had to work for a living. Hudson's having a good life. He's been well-protected and well-fed," Joseph said. "But this guy, even though he's smaller, he's all muscle because he's been out there earning a living this whole time. Life in the wild is very stressful, worrying about where your food comes from or if you're a little polar bear like this guy, if you encounter an adult male polar bear, or somebody shooting you."
In the past, polar bears that attacked people were euthanized. This bear was spared after a decision last month by zoo and provincial officials when 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, suffered scratches and puncture wounds to his hip when he was attacked by the bear on Sept. 7 as he walked alone in Churchill. He escaped by using the light from his cellphone screen to divert the bear's attention.
"It was awfully scary, but I would much rather see it stay alive," Kolsun told the Free Press after the attack. "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."
-- with files from Bruce Owen