Above: RZSS Highland Wildlife Park Senior Carnivore Keeper Vickie recalls hearing the cub for the first time.
It was such a thrill to announce that our polar bear Victoria had given birth in December.
The first few weeks and months are always a sensitive time but we have now passed the 30-day mark which is really encouraging and with each passing day we are more hopeful of the best possible news when Victoria emerges from her maternity den.
When polar bear cubs are born they are very small and helpless, weighing only around 500g. They go through a rapid growth phase, however, and weigh around 2kg at one month old. Their eyes should also open for the first time when they reach 30 days.
Above: RZSS Highland Wildlife Park Head Carnivore Keeper Una 'enjoying' the recent snow fall
Victoria needs peace and quiet at the moment to ensure she looks after her cub as well as she can, so we intrude as little as possible. Only one member of our keeping staff whom Victoria is familiar with can visit her area each day to check her water (which can freeze during our harsh winter weather) and change the batteries on a Dictaphone we use to record her cub’s vocalisations.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to hear the cub ourselves, though much of their time at this age is spent sleeping!
We are frequently asked questions such as “How many cubs do we think she has?” and “What sex are they?”
By monitoring our Dictaphone recordings and the sounds we have heard, we can only distinguish one cub so we are assuming she hasn’t had more. If she has had only one cub we will be absolutely delighted – we just want them to be healthy.
Above: Listen to a recent recording of the polar bear cub
Cubs can emerge from their dens at around three months of age and it will be at some point after this that we'll know the gender. We also try to let our animals rear their young with as little interference as possible.
The heavy snow we have had is perfect weather for Victoria to rear a cub as at this age young cubs cannot thermo-regulate and so can get chilled if the mother is not suitably attentive. Whilst this cold weather might be great for the bears, it can make it challenging for us keepers!
For instance, her enclosure is on the far side of the park and deep snow can make access a challenge, though we have been able to have some fun by providing our two male polar bears, Walker and the dad Arktos, with some ‘snowman enrichment’ which they loved.
Above: The zoo keepers working in the deep snow
Below: Some wintery enrichment for the two maie polar bears, Arktos and Walker
Although we have passed the first month stage, this remains an anxious time for us, as polar bear cubs can have a high mortality rate both in captivity and in the wild. But we certainly can’t help getting a rush of excitement every time we hear the cub’s noise and we get a day closer to finally meeting our special arrival.
We’ll share further updates with you as soon as we can over the coming weeks.
Una and Vickie
RZSS Highland Wildlife Park Carnivore Keepers
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