For a polar bear named after a northern Manitoba body of water, you could almost say it will be a homecoming when it soon arrives at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
Hudson, a 15-month-old, 186-kilogram polar bear born and raised at the Toronto Zoo, will arrive in Winnipeg in about two weeks, zoo officials announced on Thursday.
"I think it's great," said zoo visitor Elliot Hanowski as he braved the cold and wandered through the facility. "It's a fitting idea to have Arctic animals here. Why (put) tropical animals here when we have a cold climate?"
Hudson will be the first bear at Winnipeg's zoo since Debby, the world's oldest living polar bear, died there in 2008. That bear's death marked the end of polar bears at the Assiniboine Park Zoo because -- while the facility's enclosure was state-of-the-art when it was constructed -- it was out of date and didn't meet international standards for polar bear enclosures.
But Tim Sinclair-Smith, the zoo's director of zoological operations, said with the former polar, black, and grizzly bear enclosure now renovated and constructed into the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, our local zoo can once again begin featuring bears native to Manitoba.
"This city should be hugely proud of this facility," Sinclair-Smith said on Thursday.
"And Hudson is going to be the luckiest polar bear on the planet. He'll move in to the best polar bear facility in the world."
Sinclair-Smith said there's no date set for Hudson's arrival or public unveiling, but said the bear's last day at the Toronto Zoo for visitors to see him is Jan. 27.
"He'll be coming the week of the 28th," he said.
"Once he gets here we want him to settle in and he'll be in quarantine a minimum of 30 days. But he's used to people so chances are he will settle in easily.
"Probably in the first two weeks of February, the public will see him."
Heather Parry, an animal care supervisor at the zoo, said staff are thrilled the zoo will once again be home to a polar bear.
"It is terrifyingly exciting," Parry said. "We can't wait."
Maria Franke, the Toronto Zoo's curator of mammals, said "We have a responsibility to support all research efforts to help this iconic Canadian species through our conservation, education and research programs. The information gained through the zoo's breeding programs provides valuable information that is shared internationally and is essential for the survival of this magnificent species."
Sinclair-Smith first approached Toronto zookeepers shortly after Hudson was born about the possibility of the animal coming here.
He said because the zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan breeding program, has a long history of conservation initiatives and is the home of the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, it was agreed Hudson would come here.
As well, for biodiversity of the captive polar bear species, it is best to have another population of polar bears at another facility.
"If we have a catastrophic event with the polar bears, literally, zoos will be the only places where they'll be," Sinclair-Smith said.
"Everybody recognizes we have an important role to play. We have the most accessible polar bears in the world, but we also, unfortunately, have the first polar bears to be affected by climate change."
When zoo visitors first meet Hudson they will also see some of the changes that have been made at the facility.
The enclosure that used to have separate areas for polar, grizzly, and black bears is now the home of polar bears -- usually cubs -- that have become orphaned in the wild.
Visitors will be able to view the bears, but that is not the purpose of the areas.
"These enclosures are not designed to be exhibits -- they are set up to bring orphaned cubs in and to rehabilitate them," Sinclair-Smith said.
Hudson will have his pick of the three different areas, but he will start out in the former grizzly bear area.
But the centrepiece is a four-hectre site that features the zoo's $69-million Journey to Churchill exhibit. When completed next year, it will have room for six polar bears, four seals, eight muskox and several other Arctic animals.
Sinclair-Smith said the pool alone for polar bears is huge.
"Debby's whole life was spent here and the pool alone at the Journey to Churchill is bigger than Debby's entire enclosure," he said.
Polar bear essentials: The Hudson file
Born: Oct. 11, 2011, to mother Aurora and father Inukshuk at the Toronto Zoo, one of three cubs. He weighed seven kilograms. His siblings did not survive.
Early life: Hudson's mother rejected him shortly after birth, forcing zoo staff to intervene. He spent three months being cared for around the clock by the zoo's veterinarians before moving into the facility's Tundra Trek exhibit.
His name: The zoo ran a contest last year. After an online vote on the top five names, Hudson won.
Now: Hudson will be put in a special crate and flown from Toronto to Winnipeg after Toronto Zoo visitors get a chance to say goodbye during the next two weeks, until his last day on Jan. 27. Once in Winnipeg, the now 186-kilogram cub will be taken to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre where he will be quarantined and acclimatized to his new surroundings. He is expected to have his official Winnipeg welcome some time in the first two weeks of February.
What he eats: A lot. The Assiniboine Park Zoo has ordered pallets of fish, including smelt and herring, to feed the animal, which is still considered a cub until 18 months of age. He will also be fed a mix of carrots, bean sprouts, vitamin E and thiamine supplements.
Next year: Hudson will move to his new home and become the star attraction at the zoo's massive Journey to Churchill exhibit currently being built.
Future: Zoos are no longer geared just for exhibiting animals. It is hoped Hudson, when he gets older, will mate and help produce cubs, which will become part of the Species Survival Plan breeding program.
-- source: Assiniboine Park Zoo and Toronto Zoo