Suka, a 5-year-old female polar bear from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, recently moved  to the Detroit Zoo.

Suka, a 5-year-old female polar bear from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, recently moved to the Detroit Zoo.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoological Society


Detroit Zoo welcomes new female polar bear

Officials hope new pairing will result in cubs

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published March 12, 2018

 Zoo officials hope that Suka and the Detroit Zoo's 13-year-old male polar bear Nuka will produce offspring.

Zoo officials hope that Suka and the Detroit Zoo's 13-year-old male polar bear Nuka will produce offspring.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoological Society

 Nuka, the Detroit Zoo’s 13-year-old male polar bear, is expected to meet his new mate, Suka, after a quarantine period.

Nuka, the Detroit Zoo’s 13-year-old male polar bear, is expected to meet his new mate, Suka, after a quarantine period.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoological Society

ROYAL OAK — Suka, a 5-year-old female polar bear from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Wisconsin, recently arrived at the Detroit Zoo to be the new mate of Nuka, the zoo’s 13-year-old male polar bear.

Nuka and Talini, the zoo’s 13-year-old female polar bear who was recently moved to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to be paired with 8-year-old male polar bear Siku, had been unsuccessful in producing offspring since Nuka came to the zoo in 2011.

While Suka is currently under quarantine, officials expect Suka and Nuka to be paired soon for the spring breeding season.

Dr. Randi Meyerson, deputy chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society and coordinator of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ polar bear species survival plan, said the moves came as a result of a managerial committee’s recommendations.

“We try not to move polar bears often or more than we need to, but with Nuka and Talini, they were very compatible and did really well together, worked great with the staff, but for some reason she wasn’t getting pregnant,” Meyerson said. “They were breeding for five years.”

Meyerson said all of the bears involved in the breeding pairings were born in captivity and that Suka is now at the age where she will be able to reproduce.

Betsie Meister, the zoo’s associate curator of mammals, said it is common practice to quarantine all animals of any species before introducing them into their new habitats to make sure that they are healthy and happy and will integrate well.

“We hope they will meet each other soon,” Meister said. “It’s in a fairly early stage between the two of them. It’s a process. We let the bears gauge that process for us. We rely on observations and watching their behavior.”

In the arctic wild, she said, polar bears meet at great distances, so introductions take a lot of time.

“It’s not like they walk up to each other right away and shake hands,” Meister said. “First comes the smell and then maybe they’ll see each other. … It’s important to let them do this on their terms. We want this to be successful.”

Both Meister and Meyerson stressed the importance of conservation and education when it comes to polar bears. A major factor impacting the future of polar bears in the wild is global warming and climate change, which has accelerated since the early 2000s and is contributing to a reduction in sea ice, they said.

Less sea ice means polar bears have to travel farther and swim more to find food, and polar bears are increasingly having to den on land, which is not ideal due to overcrowding and increased dangers of predators, Meister said. 

“We say that polar bears are true ambassadors for our species to inspire and engage people to recycle and especially buy recycled products and to reduce our carbon footprints,” Meyerson said.

She said that polar bear numbers in the wild were very low at one point due to overhunting and toxins in the environment, but the five nations populated by polar bears came together to put regulations in place. 

Besides educating the public about how to become good stewards of the environment, Meyerson said the zoo also works with field scientists in conjunction with the zoo’s bears to measure, for example, the increased energetic costs of swimming to find food instead of walking.

To help reduce carbon footprints, Meister encouraged residents to opt for more fuel-efficient cars and energy-efficient appliances, turn off lights when they are not being used, turn off the tap when brushing teeth and lower the thermostat in the winter.

“People don’t have to make drastic changes in their lives,” she said. “(Progress occurs when) a lot of people make a few changes.”

For updates about Suka, follow the Detroit Zoo on Facebook at www.facebook.com/detroitzoological society.

For more information about the Detroit Zoo, call (248) 541-5717 or visit www.detroitzoo.org.

The zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, east of Woodward Avenue, in Royal Oak.