The first polar bear to be born in Britain in a quarter of a century took its first public steps yesterday, on the 20th of March.
The cub was born to Victoria at the Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland in December in the week before Christmas. Victoria is currently the only female polar bear in the UK. She mated with Arktos, one of two male bears at the park.
Born blind, the cub has now regained its sight. It weighed little more than a guinea pig at birth. It is nameless for now, but the staff at the park in Kincraig, Strathspey and Badenoch are hoping to name it in the coming weeks. Zookeepers are also attempting to determine the sex of the cub.
Victoria gave birth in a maternity den at the park. Initially, the only confirmation of the cub’s existence were the high pitched squeals emanating from the den. The cub and its mother were ensured complete privacy, and filmed only as part of a documentary on polar bear breeding and birth.
Now, the cub has been given access to the outdoors as an attempt to raise its confidence, and to allow the public to see it. It was given a day to explore its surroundings, and will be available for the public to see from the 21st of March.
Una Richardson, Head Keeper at the park, said, “Having spent four months in her maternity den, Victoria quickly took the chance to go outside. Understandably, her cub has been more cautious and is still getting used to new sights, smells and sounds.”
“While the cub will become more confidence and start to explore the large enclosure with Victoria, this will take time and they will always have access to their den for peace and quiet.”
“There is no guarantee all of our visitors will see the cub at this early age but they may be lucky. There is a huge interest in the park and seeing a polar bear cub would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people, particularly those traveling from around the world.”
Doug Richardson, the park’s Head of Living Collections, said, “Our pioneering captive polar bear management program closely mirrors what happens in the wild and this birth shows our approach is working. This is vital because a healthy and robust captive population may one day be needed to augment numbers in the wild, such are the threats to the species from climate change and human pressures.”
“The reintroduction of polar bears would be an enormous task but we need to have the option. While our cub will never be in the wild, there is a chance it offspring maybe in decades to come,” he added.
The last polar bear cubs to be born in the UK were a set of twins, who came into the world at Flamingo Land, Yorkshire, on 8th December, 1992.
Victoria, born in 1996 at the Rostock Zoo in Germany, came to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park in March 2015. She previously gave birth at the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark in 2008.
Arktos, born in the Vienna Zoo in 2008, arrived at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park in March 2015.
RZSS Chief Executive, Barbara Smith, said, “The birth of the first will you be here in the UK for a quarter of a century is a huge achievement for the Royal zoological Society of Scotland and the team at our Highland Wildlife Park.”
“We are hopeful our Cub will help to raise awareness of the dangers to Polar bears in the wild. Collectively, we must do all we can to protect this magnificent species.”