A new arrival at the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) at Assiniboine Park Zoo appears to be adjusting well so far.
Zoo staff gave an update on Oct. 29 on the status of an orphaned female cub from Churchill, as well as potential future resident Arturo, an older bear currently located at the Mendoza Zoo in Argentina.
The new cub, approximately 11 months old, arrived in Winnipeg late at night on Oct. 28. Dr. Brian Joseph, director of zoological operations at Assiniboine Park Zoo, Dr. Chris Enright, the zoo’s head of veterinary services, and Jim Duncan, director of the wildlife branch at Manitoba Conservation, all accompanied the cub to the IPBCC.
"She’s already used to the system," said Joseph. "She came in, she was not the least bit bothered about being here… she was eating, she was playing with the bark, she was swimming. We have full confidence that she will adapt very quickly."
The young cub was found near the Churchill Airport, without her mother, through the Polar Bear Alert Program. After observing the cub, and an extensive search for the mother, it was decided to bring the bear to the IPBCC.
"A cub at a year in the wild, on its own, would experience a very long and probably drawn out, painful death," Duncan said. "So euthanasia is a last resort, but establishing the polar bear rescue centre here at the Journey to Churchill (exhibit), that’s one of the intentions here, is to help us deal with orphaned cubs."
Enright said though being skinny is normal after not eating much during the summer, the cub is considered underweight. He also added she will need some dental work, as some of her teeth are broken and infected.
"In the wild that would certainly catch up with her and cause some problems," said Enright. "We will consult a veterinary dentist and decide the best course of action to resolve these issues."
Joseph said there will be no need for any sort of surrogacy for the cub.
"Polar bears are one of the most flexible animals on Earth and that is largely because they are an apex predator," Joseph said. "A little animal like this in our environment is very self-sufficient and isn’t mother-dependent."
Joseph also said Hudson, and the other bear from Churchill brought in on Oct. 9, could smell the new cub but were not bothered by her presence.
Arturo may come to Winnipeg
Don Peterkin, chief operating officer for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, offered some details regarding the status of Arturo, the 28-year-old polar bear at the Mendoza Zoo in Argentina. He said he, Joseph, Enright, were to visit the South American country from Nov. 5 to 8 to see the animal up close but Mendoza’s Conservation Minister, Marcos Zandomeni, who recently invited them, has asked for it to be rescheduled.
Arturo first came to the attention of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy earlier this year, when local animal lover Maria Fernanda Arentsen told them of the old bear and the protests surrounding him. The conservancy approached the Mendoza Zoo, which initially declined the offer to bring Arturo to Winnipeg.
But in July, Peterkin received a phone call from Zandomeni.
"In the telephone call the minister did lay out a vision he had for the future of the Mendoza Zoo. He requested our assistance in starting to develop a master plan for the zoo," Peterkin said. "At that point I requested his approval, or blessing, of the concept that Arturo would come to Winnipeg may it be deemed medically suitable… it took a number of months, until four weeks ago we have now confirmed that the minister has agreed to transition the polar bear to Winnipeg."
If Arturo is found to be healthy and able to make the two-day journey north, Peterkin said the conservancy would cover all costs as a humanitarian act.
Peterkin said the earliest Arturo could be in Winnipeg is spring 2014, due to permits and paperwork which need to be processed before he can be moved.