Glacier Run – Orphaned Polar Bear Qannik’s New Home

Qannik the polar bear. Copyright John Gomes, Alaska Zoo.

The Louisville Zoo‘s new Glacier Run exhibit is the new home for an orphaned polar bear cub who was found on Alaska’s North Slope in April.  The five-month old Qannik (pronounced Ken’ick) arrived at the Zoo in late June and will be off public exhibit for a period of time for quarantine and to adjust to her new surroundings.

Qannik on his way to Louisville Zoo from Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.

Last week, Qannik’s crate was loaded onto theUPS  747 just prior to departure in Anchorage to minimize her wait time, and she was the first off the plane in Louisville.  One of the Louisville Zoo Veterenarians, Dr. Zoli Gymesi, and Louisville Zoo Assistant Mammal Curator Jane Anne Franklin had continuous in-flight access to Qannik. Dr. Gymesi remarked, “Qannik had a quiet flight. She appeared comfortable and restful.”  Franklin fed Qannik special frozen formula pops that the Alaska Zoo Animal Curator Shannon Jensen had prepared and her cabin temperature was chilled to between 58 and 60 degrees.  “She was a great traveler,” Franklin adds. Once she arrived in Louisville, she was transported in a climate-controlled vehicle accompanied by a back-up vehicle and security. 

Qannik means “snowflake” in the Iñupiat language and it is also the name of the oil field where she was found.  The cub’s journey from the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage to Louisville was dubbed Operation Snowflake  and is the product of a two-month collaboration between the Alaska Zoo and Louisville Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Polar Bears International (PBI) and UPS

“In a collaborative effort with USFWS, it was determined the best placement for this little cub would be Louisville where both her physical and psychological needs could be met,” commented Dr. Randi Meyerson, the Coordinator of the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan® (SSP), one of AZA’s cooperative breeding management programs and a critical component in assisting threatened and endangered species. “The Louisville Zoo’s new Glacier Run bear habitat is an excellent facility with a lot of space, flexibility, animal training and enrichment options,” continued Meyerson. “Several of the Zoo’s staff  have over ten years of experience of working with polar bears which was also a key factor in making the decision as was the strong conservation messaging centered around Glacier Run.”  A third and equally important factor was the tentatively-scheduled placement of a young captive-born polar bear in Louisville in the Fall of 2011.

Qannik's new home - Louisville Zoo's Glacier Run exhibit. Copyright Louisville Zoo.

Qannik brings the total population of polar bears in North America facilities to only 79.  Qannik was born last January in a snow-den her mother dug to protect her from the fury of the Arctic Alaskan winter. She was first spotted on Alaska’s North Slope in February of this year with her mother and sibling. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey placed a radio monitoring collar on the mother and were tracking her and the two cubs before the collar slipped off.  In late April, Qannik was spotted again, this time alone.  An unsuccessful aerial search was conducted to locate the mother.  It is unknown why Qannik was separated from her mother and sibling but eventually the cub was again sighted near the ConocoPhillips site where she was rescued. The USFWS called in the Alaska Zoo to care for the distressed cub.   Polar bear cubs stay with their mother for over two years as they learn the ways of their Arctic sea ice home.  Cubs of this age cannot survive by themselves.   

Louisville Zoo's Glacier Run exhibit. Copyright Louisville Zoo.

The bear habitat of Glacier Run, the Louisville Zoo’s newest exhibit, opened in April 2011 and shows the Zoo’s commitment to the species in both the facility design and programming. The Louisville Zoo worked closely with PBI in the process of designing and building Glacier Run and through this partnership the Zoo has been designated as an Arctic Ambassador Center.   Designed as an imaginary town on the edge of the arctic wilderness, Glacier Run is modeled after Churchill, Canada, the polar bear capital of the world and a place where people are learning to co-exist with wildlife.

Glacier Run features include an old mining quarry now flooded with water (for the bears to play in), a fishery and warehouse dock (more bear play space) and a melting glacier that has destroyed a road in the town (even more bear play space). The exhibit offers spectacular views, captivating stories of the arctic and unique opportunities for close-up encounters with the magnificent and iconic polar bear, as well as grizzly bears.  Guests can interact with zoo keepers, learn about current challenges to arctic environments and animals, and discover how incremental changes in our everyday activities and behaviors can make a difference for our planet and these magnificent species.

Tim Lewthwaite

This entry was posted in Conservation, Exhibits, Polar bear, Zoo. Bookmark the permalink.

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