Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Birthday surprise excites Hudson

What do you give a polar bear?

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This party had the bear necessities.Fish in a puzzle feeder? Check. Meat hidden in snow? Of course. Gift wrap in the form of a refrigerator box? Got it. Toys to toss around? Certainly. A 257-kilogram birthday boy? Front and centre.

Hudson the polar bear was the guest of honour Friday at a party to celebrate his second birthday in front of his enclosure at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The enormous bear, who moved to Winnipeg in January after being born in captivity in the Toronto Zoo, thrilled the crowd of mostly preschool children and parents by immediately diving into a pile of fresh snow deposited in his habitat and digging for food and toys hidden in it.

Children began singing a loud rendition of Happy Birthday as the bear lumbered over to push down the fridge box to get at the feeder. After a few sniffs, he headed back to the pile of snow to continue digging.

"I came today with my dad and my friend, River. We got to miss school because I was really excited to see the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre and see Hudson on his birthday," said Martina Barclay, 10, a Grade 5 student at Ecole Laura Secord School who was accompanied by her dad, Dave.

"I think it's really important to learn as much as we can about polar bears because they are almost extinct, they're endangered."

Jenna Harrison, one of four zookeepers who look after Hudson exclusively, said the fridge box was safe for the bear because the keepers knew he wouldn't try to eat cardboard.

"The plastic cube that was in the present, we call it a puzzle feeder. That way he gets fish in there but he has to work for it. It's not as simple as just tossing fish to him. He has to figure out how to get it out of there," Harrison said. "The snow will be exciting all day. He'll nap in it later."

She said it was important to have fans of the zoo come out for Hudson's big day.

"The more chances we have to teach people about these bears, the better," Harrison said. "Hudson is a great ambassador for his species. Yes, he was hand-raised and he's never lived in the wild, but getting people to come here gives us a chance to talk about what is happening to the species in the wild.

"And it was fun for everyone to watch him enjoy some presents."

Shonet Stoesz brought her three children -- Nate, 41/2, Anthony, 21/2, and one-year-old Olivia -- to check out the big guy's big day.

"For someone who is home-schooled... it's always great to come to the zoo and this was a great educational opportunity for all of us," Stoesz said.

Her oldest son was definitely showing his inquisitive side.

"I think there's fish in there. Polar bears like fish," Nate said.

Julie Biljardt's children, Daniel, 5, and Annalies, 2, called over Harrison and gave her two birthday cards for Hudson.

"I drew a race car and I drew Hudson sitting in it," Daniel said. "I saw him digging in the snow and I saw him knock over that big box."

Jack Lindner, 11, and his mom, Carolyn, made the most of a day off from school. "I've never seen Hudson before so I thought it would be great to see him on his birthday and we got these free buttons," Jack said, referring to the "I Love Hudson" buttons given out to the first 500 visitors Friday.

"I've gotten to see him romp around and I saw him carrying something. He's huge!"

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 A11

History

Updated on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 12:20 PM CDT: Fixed spelling of Ecole

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