Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hudson makes his new home in Winnipeg

Assiniboine Park Zoo welcomes first polar bear since Debby died in 2008

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The weather gods must have been smiling the night Hudson landed in Winnipeg.

The deep freeze that had engulfed the city for more than a week had ended and it was a comparatively pleasant -19 C.

Hudson is a polar bear, but he was hand-reared by zookeepers and his birthplace wasn't Hudson Bay, it was Toronto, so he's not exactly used to the frigid cold.

Hudson was rolled out in his steel crate at the Richardson International Airport at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday, an hour late after a flight delay.

Before that, there had been a road trip from the Toronto Zoo to the airport in Hamilton, a long wait on the ground, and a 21/2-hour flight.

A very tired, but pumped, Tim Sinclair-Smith, director of zoological operations at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, said that by afternoon, Hudson was over his jet lag.

"He's lying flat on his belly right now and he's got one fat bum; he's not doing without," Sinclair-Smith said, letting out an avuncular chuckle.

Sinclair-Smith's got a view the rest of us can envy.

Hudson is in seclusion, a routine 30-day quarantine at the zoo's former bear enclosure.

The enclosure has been renovated to the exacting standards of an International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, allowing the zoo to again feature bears native to Manitoba.

The centre used to be the home of Debby, who was the world's oldest known polar bear when she died in 2008 at age 42. Hudson is the first polar bear here since her death.

"Once he's settled in, we can introduce him to the outside pens and then we can introduce him to the public in about a month," said Sinclair-Smith, who only got two hours of sleep the night before.

Sinclair-Smith said a bank of cameras are the zoo's electronic eyes on Hudson.

The 15-month-old, 185-kilogram cub seems to like his new home: "I can see him all the time. What he's doing right now is walking around, just walking. He's been playing by the back pool and he's investigating everything, sniffing everything."

Chances are Hudson's not lonely.

Polar bears are solitary in the wild, only gathering when the ice forms, or to mate.

Hudson is the zoo's first bear in its Journey to Churchill enclosure, the centrepiece of the zoo's redevelopment in recent years. His diet is fish, with smelt his favourite.

Right now, Hudson is the sole beneficiary of a fridge big enough to stock frozen fish for a year. It can hold food for up to six bears and assorted seals the enclosure is built to hold.

Sinclair-Smith first approached the Toronto Zoo shortly after Hudson was born about the possibility of the animal coming here.

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 Winnipeg was a good fit for Hudson.

As well, it is best to have another population of polar bears at a different facility to help with biodiversity of the captive polar bear species,

"If we have a catastrophic event with the polar bears, literally, zoos will be the only places where they'll be," Sinclair-Smith said.

Hudson's first scent of Winnipeg came the moment the plane's cargo bay opened. He was the first off.

Sinclair-Smith said the bear raised his nose to sniff the air from inside his travelling steel crate.


-- With files from Kevin Rollason

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 A5

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