The orphaned polar bear cub that was found in the Alaskan Slopes by employees of ConocoPhillips is soon to begin its new life at the Louisville zoo where it will be brought by the end of June. Named Qannik (pronounced Ken’ick) the five month old will not be displayed immediately though as it will need time to adjust to its new home and pass quarantine.
Qannik means snowflakes in Iñupiat language. It is also the name of the snowfield where the orphaned cub was found. As a result of the two month collaboration between the Alaska Zoo and Louisville zoo the cub will now be brought to the latter under the operation termed ‘Operation Snowflake’. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Polar Bears International (PBI) and UPS also have lent their support to the important relocation.
Dr. Randi Meyerson, the Coordinator of the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) said, “In a collaborative effort with USFWS, it was determined the best placement for this little cub would be Louisville where both her physical and psychological needs could be met.”
He added that the choice was also made because of the experienced staff and the excellent polar bear facility offered by Louisville Zoo.
“The Louisville Zoo’s new Glacier Run bear habitat is an excellent facility with a lot of space, flexibility, animal training and enrichment options,” continued Meyerson. “Several of the Zoo’s staff have over 10 years of experience of working with polar bears which was also a key factor in making the decision as was the strong conservation messaging centered around Glacier Run.”
Rosa Meehan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska Region believed that Qannik could eventually become a valuable ‘spokesbear’ who could teach people about polar bears, their habitat and help scientists learn more about the species.
In North America with Qannik the total polar bear population in captivity will grow to 79.
Qannik was born in January last year and was spotted on Alaska’s north slope with his mother and sibling. The U.S. Geological Survey placed a radio collar around the mother but it slipped off. Later Qannik was found roaming alone in the snowfields. When an Ariel search failed to locate his mother or sibling and the cub was spotted again near ConocoPhillips site, it was air lifted and rescued. The cub was then taken to Alaska zoo.
Patrick Lampi, executive director of the Alaska Zoo says, “Qannik arrived at the Alaska Zoo weighing only 15 pounds. She has progressed well under the Zoo’s care and now weighs 60 pounds and responds well to her caretakers.”
PBI’s Dr. Steven C. Amstrup notes that the cub could have easily died if it had not been rescued as they stay with their mothers for at least a period of two years before learning to survive in the cold region.
In recent years the number of polar bear cub deaths has increased more so because of global warming. The thinning ice layers and fragmented ice sheets makes it difficult for the cubs to keep up with their mothers who go about looking for seals to hunt in order to gain their lost energy.
“It is lucky for Qannik that she was discovered and brought to Louisville where she can flourish and also help us learn about polar bears and the threats to their future existence,” Amstrup concluded.
PBI President and CEO Robert Buchanan who was instrumental in bringing all the groups together for a massive operation like this was thrilled to hear about Qannik and said,
“The primary concern of everyone involved with this little bear has been doing what’s best for her,” said Buchanan. “The Louisville Zoo has an extraordinary exhibit and commitment to polar bears and it will be a wonderful home for Qannik.”
“We are thrilled and honored to have been chosen to be Qannik’s new caregivers. Recovery of abandoned cubs such as Qannik is one of the reasons we built Glacier Run, to provide much needed, state-of-the-art bear space to help manage the population of these iconic animals and hopefully aid in their survival,” said Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak. “We will give her the utmost care. She will be an important animal ambassador, representing her species and the importance of arctic conservation.”
Qannik will be traveling with a special team including the directors of both zoos, Shannon Jensen, curator of the Alaska Zoo, as well as the Louisville Zoo Assistant Mammal Curator and Supervisor of Animal Training Jane Anne Franklin and Louisville Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Zoli Gyimesi. She will be flying on a UPS Boeing 747-400.
The bear exhibit called Glacier Run of the Louisville Zoo opened in April 2011 and has been designed as an imaginary town at the edge of the Arctic wilderness. It has been modeled after the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Canada. Apart from polar bears the facility gives unique glimpse of grizzly bears, seals and sea lions.