Zoos from across the country work together to protect polar bears
If you have been to the Zoo recently, you may have noticed that our Arctic Edge Exhibit has a new resident! Sakari, the polar bear now calls Buffalo his home. His move to Western New York was a part of a multi-zoo effort to support polar bear conservation and we are incredibly excited to have him.
Sakari, the 3 year old polar bear comes to Buffalo from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin, where he lived with his twin sister Suka. Members who are familiar with the Zoo’s own Luna may be surprised when they see Sakari who is almost double her size. Males are typically much larger than females weighing anywhere from 750 lbs to 1,200 lbs however Sakari isn’t even full grown. He is in his “teenage” years for a polar bear so with a little time he will grow into his long legs and big ears. Like Luna, he loves swimming and exploring his exhibit. He also enjoys participating in training sessions with his keepers. One behavior the public at Henry Vilas Zoo really enjoyed was him standing up on his hind legs to show his full height, which is almost 10 feet tall!
Sakari, who made his public Buffalo debut on New Year’s Day, has adjusted to his new home incredibly well. According to his keepers “he is a very easy bear to work with and train. He’s also very inquisitive and loves meal times.” Although he hasn’t been introduced to Luna yet, he knows Luna is next door to him and spends a lot of time trying to peep over his exhibit to see her.
Sakari’s move was just one part of a much bigger plan. The Buffalo Zoo teamed up with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens and the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI as part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommendation to help maintain healthy and stable populations in captivity. On November 21, while Sakari made his way to Buffalo two other polar bears embarked on a journey to their new homes. Polar bear Anana (mother of Luna) traveled to Cincinnati, while polar bear Berit moved to the Henry Vilas Zoo.
This complicated, multi-Zoo shuffle was recommended by the polar bear SSP, when it became clear that Cincinnati’s 17-year-old Berit and her mate, 26-year-old Little One, were not going to produce offspring. Berit and Little One had been together since 2007 and, although they have demonstrated appropriate breeding behaviors, Berit had never produced cubs. This led to the SSP selecting Buffalo’s Anana, who is of prime reproductive age (16) and has produced cubs in the past to move to Cincinnati. They deemed that she and Little One were a good match and hope they will breed in the future.
With less then 70 polar bears in human care in North America, it is essential that zoos work together to save this vulnerable species. Here at the Buffalo Zoo we are incredibly proud to be a part of such a major undertaking and although Sakari and Luna are not sexually mature we hope to slowly introduce them together with the hope that they will produce offspring.
The current International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report estimates that there are 26,000 polar bears left in the wild and lists it as a vulnerable species, citing loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change as its most serious threat. We invite you to come and visit Sakari and Luna to learn more about this amazing species and what you can do to help protect polar bears in the wild.
Sakari and Luna can be seen in the Arctic Edge exhibit presented by Tops Friendly Markets, daily.