Nuka, left, and Suka, right, swim  underwater in their 190,000- gallon salt water pool in the Arctic Ring of Life habitat at the Detroit Zoo. Suka recently came to the Detroit Zoo from the Henry Vilas Zoo in  Madison,  Wisconsin.

Nuka, left, and Suka, right, swim underwater in their 190,000- gallon salt water pool in the Arctic Ring of Life habitat at the Detroit Zoo. Suka recently came to the Detroit Zoo from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo


New female polar bear getting along swimmingly in new home

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 3, 2018

 Nuka, left, and Suka, right, nap together in their habitat at the  Detroit Zoo. Zoo officials hope they will breed and produce cubs.

Nuka, left, and Suka, right, nap together in their habitat at the Detroit Zoo. Zoo officials hope they will breed and produce cubs.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

ROYAL OAK —  Suka, the Detroit Zoo’s new 5-year-old female polar bear, seems to be loving her new habitat and new partner, Nuka, 13, who has been the zoo’s resident male polar bear since 2011.

Suka was released from quarantine after a transfer from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, around March 15, and she officially met Nuka March 19.

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

She said zoo staff monitored Suka until the “time was right” to let her say hello to her new home and mate.

“They’ve been doing great,” Meister said in a March 29 phone interview. “They’re a great pair. They love to play together in the pool. She’s much more playful than he is, but he’s over there sitting, watching her play.”

She said the two polar bears are “very much attached” and do everything together, from eating to sleeping to wrestling. She said Nuka is about twice the size of Suka, weighing in at 1,100 pounds while she weighs approximately 600 pounds.

“That is typical of male polar bears and female polar bears,” Meister said. “They are very respectful of each other. We’re very, very happy.”

She said the spring mating season occurs in March and April, so zookeepers are keeping an eye on Nuka and Suka to watch for any kind of breeding behavior.

“What they’re doing now is kind of normal behavior of how males and females get closer,” she said. “We very well might see breeding in the future, but they’re kind of courting right now, or building that relationship by being together all the time.”

She said she is hopeful that the pair will produce cubs to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the transfer, based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ polar bear species survival plan.

“Most polar bears born in a captive situation (arrive in) late November into December,” Meister said. “Gestation (in bears) is a little bit tricky. There’s not a set number of months or days — it ranges between late March and late November, like seven, eight months.”

She said polar bears have what is called “delayed implantation” after breeding, in which a fertilized embryo will go into suspension and then impact onto the female’s uterine wall until the proper time for development and growth.

“It’s a really unique reproductive system,” she said. “All bears do that, so that cubs can be born at the proper time, when the mother can bulk up her weight, have milk for nursing and find a den that is nice and cozy.”

If Suka were to deliver a cub or cubs, Meister said it is the zoo’s hope for her to raise the cubs herself.

“Mom knows best,” she said. “Then, perhaps a few years after they’re born, they would go to another facility for the breeding program in collaboration with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ polar bear species survival plan.”

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 move came as a result of a managerial committee’s recommendations.

Talini, 13, the Detroit Zoo’s former female polar bear, found a new home at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to be paired with 8-year-old male polar bear Siku.

“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 in a prior interview. “They were breeding for five years.”

Meyerson said she hoped the change in scenery would provide Talini whatever she may have formerly lacked so that she might become pregnant.

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.

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.