Keepers Play Cupid
Polar Bear Pairings Could Bring Romance
The gorgeous weather that Chicagoland has been experiencing does not conjure images of Arctic blasts and snow, so it seems an odd time to talk about polar bears. But spring is a time for love---and there seems to be plenty of romance on the horizon with the zoo’s polar bears.
Born at Brookfield Zoo in November of 2003, Payton is a typical juvenile polar bear. “He is kind of hyper, and very playful. Just what you would expect for a juvenile polar bear,” said lead keeper Mike Brown. The bear has been growing fast. These days he weighs in at a robust 540 pounds, making it hard to tell him and his mother apart at times. He has been eating solid food for over a year but is still being supplemented with his mother’s milk.
And like a typical polar bear, Payton has reached the age when he would be weaned and separate from his mother in the wild. With this in mind, keepers have been giving Payton and Arki special separation training. In late April, the two were separated for the first time, with Payton moving into his own grotto, next door to his mother. The transition was a noisy one---both Payton and Arki loudly vocalized to each other. Though the bears have quickly adjusted, it will be quite a transition for Payton. Young zoo bears often lose as much as 100 pounds after they stop getting milk from their mothers, though the weight is gained back in a surprisingly short time. But do not worry about Arki and Payton---keepers have set up introductions with a pair of new (and old) friends to keep them company.
“She is gorgeous! When she leaves, we are all really going to miss her.”
Lead Keeper Mike Brown was not talking about a visiting supermodel when he uttered those words. Instead, he was detailing the arrival of Haley, a dainty 365-pound female polar bear one year (almost to the day) older than Payton. She arrived from the Seneca Park Zoo recently, via FedEx. “She was incredibly calm—even when she arrived at the airport,” said Brown. “The FedEx staff was fascinated to see her in the transport crate, and she was very interested in the crowd around her at the FedEx terminal.”
Over the next few weeks, as Payton gets used to his new bachelor pad, Haley will get familiar with her new digs too and keepers will begin the process of introducing him to Haley behind the scenes. First the bears will be able to hear and smell each other from separate but nearby holding areas. After a week or two, they will be given visual access and will be able to see each other from across separate rooms. If all goes well, after a period of 5-6 weeks, they will be separated by only a barred door. Eventually, they will both be put on exhibit with access to the same pair of open grottos.
Keepers have a lot of experience with these introductions---they used the same process and protocols when they introduced former Brookfield Zoo residents Eddy and Tiguak in 1999. When the two were finally introduced after two weeks, there was a lot of noise and a bit of tussling, but Eddy was able to win Tiguak over with some polar bear charm and plenty of gifts from the adjoining grotto. Keepers expect similar results when Payton and Haley meet face-to-face for the first time.
After the introduction, keepers hope the two bears will share their grotto and bond before leaving for Memphis Zoo in 2006. It is hoped that they will breed down the line, five to six years from now.