SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Louisville Zoo Will Be Orphaned Polar Bear Cub's New Home


June 22, 2011
Wednesday PM

(SitNews) Louisville, KY - Zoo Director John Walczak announced Wednesday that the Louisville Zoo will soon be home to the orphaned polar bear cub that received national attention when she was found in Alaska in April by employees of ConocoPhillips. Five-month old Qannik is scheduled to arrive in late June and will be off public exhibit for a period of time for quarantine and to adjust to her new surroundings.

Qannik means "snowflake" in the Inupiat language and it is also the name of the oil field where she was found. Qannik brings the total captive population of polar bears in North America to only 79.

The cub's journey from the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to Louisville has been dubbed "Operation Snowflake" and is the product of a two month collaboration between the Alaska Zoo and Louisville Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Polar Bears International (PBI) and UPS.

"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," commented Dr. Randi Meyerson, the Coordinator of the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP), one of AZA's cooperative breeding management programs that assists threatened and endangered species. "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." An equally important factor was the tentatively-scheduled placement of a young captive-born polar bear in Louisville later in 2011.

"We're glad that the cub will soon be settled in a permanent home," said Rosa Meehan of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Alaska Region, which assisted with the zoo selection process. "I'm confident that the Louisville Zoo is the right choice, and that the cub will be a valuable "spokesbear," teaching the public about polar bears and their habitat, and increasing the scientific community's understanding of this threatened species."

Qannik was born in January and was first spotted on Alaska's North Slope in February with her mother and sibling. A radio monitoring collar was placed on the mother but it slipped off. In late April, Qannik was spotted alone. An unsuccessful aerial search was conducted to locate the mother and Qannik was rescued. The USFWS called the Alaska Zoo to care for the cub. 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, commented "Had Qannik not been rescued, she would have died. Polar bear cubs stay with their mother for over 2 years as they learn the ways of their Arctic sea ice home. Cubs of this age cannot survive on their own. It is lucky for Qannik that she was discovered and will be heading to Louisville where she can flourish and also help us learn about polar bears and the threats to their future existence." PBI is the leading non-governmental authority promoting polar bear conservation through research, education and stewardship.

Meticulous planning and countless hours have been logged preparing for Qannik's trip from Alaska to Louisville since Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer first asked logistics experts at UPS for help in transporting the cub.

Qannik will be traveling with a special team including Curators and the Directors from both zoos and a Louisville Zoo Veterinarian. She will be flying on a UPS Boeing 747-400. A press conference is being planned that will include the experts that cared for Qannik throughout her journey, the Louisville Zoo team that will continue her care, the transportation logistics team from UPS, PBI President Robert Buchanan and Meyerson. To ensure a smooth transition the Louisville Zoo team will be going to Anchorage early to meet with the Alaska team and to get acquainted with Qannik.

The bear habitat of Glacier Run opened in April 2011 and shows the Zoo's commitment to the species in both the facility design and programming. Designed as an imaginary town on the edge of the arctic wilderness, Glacier Run is modeled after Churchill, Canada, the polar bear capital of the world and a place where humans are learning to co-exist with wildlife.

Glacier Run is currently home to Arki, a 26 year-old polar bear and a family of three grizzly bears.


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