Two polar bear cubs born at Detroit Zoo doing well

By: Sarah Wojcik | Metro | Published February 5, 2021

 A female polar bear cub, who was born Nov. 17 at the Detroit Zoo, is being hand-reared by zoo staff in a private, behind-the-scenes area.

A female polar bear cub, who was born Nov. 17 at the Detroit Zoo, is being hand-reared by zoo staff in a private, behind-the-scenes area.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

ROYAL OAK — The Detroit Zoo recently announced that two polar bear cubs born Nov. 17 to mom Suka, 8, and 16-year-old father Nuka are doing well.

The as-yet-unnamed cubs are the first of their species to be born and successfully raised at the Detroit Zoo since 2004. While Suka gave birth to cubs in 2018 and 2019, none survived beyond a few days.

Zoo staff were aware of Suka’s third pregnancy and created a maternity den for her to have some privacy away from Nuka and 20-year-old female polar bear Anana. The zoo equipped the low-ceilinged den with bedding and infrared cameras to monitor Suka and her cubs without disturbing them.

“On the first day the cubs were born, they were both moving, and we could hear both cubs vocalizing,” Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter said. “On the second day, it was clear that one had stopped moving as much, and we made the decision to remove the cub.”

Staff allowed Suka out of the den and retrieved the cub who appeared to be weak, which is a female. The sex of the other cub remains unknown.

Veterinarians examined the cub at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex, located at the zoo, and gave her fluids and formula. With continued around-the-clock care and bottle feeding, the cub’s weight increased from 1.2 pounds to 11.3 pounds, and she is out of an incubator and into a specially designed “playpen,” according to the zoo.

Full-grown polar bears stand 6 to 9 feet tall; weigh 450-1,400 pounds; and live to be 21-24 years old. Polar bears are carnivores and mainly hunt ringed and bearded seals in the wild.

The plan is for the cub to return to the polar bears’ tundra and pack ice habitat in the Arctic Ring of Life, which also houses arctic foxes. Staff is not yet sure whether the human-reared cub can be reunited with her mother and sibling. It all depends on the bears and their temperaments, as staff tries to be as hands-off as possible to mirror conditions of the bears’ wild counterparts.

“Meanwhile, we continue to monitor Suka and the cub she is caring for,” a zoo press release states. “She has been a very attentive mom; continuously nursing, grooming and cuddling her cub, with only short water and bathroom breaks.”

While both cubs and Suka are in private, behind-the-scenes areas, guests can still view Nuka and Anana in their habitat. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage for underwater viewing is currently closed.

Zoo staff said they are looking forward to learning much from the rare occurrence of twin polar bear cubs being raised separately — one by humans and one by its biological mother. So far, both cubs are successfully hitting developmental milestones: their eyes are open, their teeth are coming in, and they are both learning to take their first steps.

The births are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Polar Bear Species Survival Plan, a cooperative population management and conservation program that helps ensure the sustainability of healthy captive animal populations. There are currently 56 polar bears in 25 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, according to the zoo.

Polar bears are found in the U.S., Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway, living along the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the summer and on sea ice during the winter, according to the zoo.

Polar bears are listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the zoo said in a press release, and greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change have led to a loss of sea ice, which threatens polar bears’ existence, as they rely on ice to hunt, breed and den.

“We think it’s really important that we can be able to talk about climate change and make it really meaningful for people when we can show how climate change impacts animals at the zoo,” Carter said. “People connect with animals at the zoo and can connect real environmental issues with animals they see at the zoo.”

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

“We always get excited, as everyone else does, when there’s a new baby (animal at the zoo),” Carter said. “It’s hard to not get excited. This never becomes commonplace.”

For more information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.