New polar bear lands in Detroit, with romance the goal
If birds, bees and even educated fleas do it, it’s safe to assume that polar bears do, too. But a pair of bears at the Detroit Zoo apparently didn’t do it very well, so one of them has been replaced.
A 5-year-old female named Suka has arrived in Royal Oak from a zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, with zookeepers hoping she can set off sparks in the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit with a 13-year-old named Nuka.
Suka, meet Nuka. Nuka, Suka.
Nuka, on loan from Pittsburgh, had previously been matched with Talini, 13, who was born at the Detroit Zoo in 2004. Despite the zoo’s best efforts at helping them slip into something more comfortable — the Ring of Life includes a grassy tundra, a freshwater pool, an ice bed and a 190,000-gallon saltwater pool — they had produced no offspring since Nuka’s arrival in 2011.
Talini, therefore, has been shipped to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, where she will be introduced to an 8-year-old male named Siku.
The matchmaker in all three cases is the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, through its Species Survival Plan program. The program is designed to help create genetically healthy, diverse and self-sustaining populations of threatened and endangered species.
The SSP chair for polar bears, as it happens, is the Detroit Zoo's new deputy chief life sciences officer. Randi Meyerson came from the Toledo Zoo in January, though unlike Suka and Talini, she was not transported in a refrigerated truck.
The departed Talini, Meyerson said, did attempt to make further polar bears with Nuka. “But for some reason, she wasn’t getting pregnant or she wasn’t having cubs.”
Polar bears, she said, engage in a process called delayed implantation. They breed from late February through April, but if a female becomes pregnant, the embryo doesn’t immediately implant.
Implantation occurs in August or September, but only if the prospective mother is hale and hearty enough to have cubs, nurse them for a few months, and then go out onto the ice and hit nature’s buffet line.
Talini “seemed good and healthy,” Meyerson said. “Her exams were good. We don’t know why it didn’t work.”
The hope is that a new partner and a fresh setting in Chicago will help her become a mom.
At 10 Mile Road and Woodward, meantime, Suka is temporarily under quarantine, but she will soon lift a big white paw and swipe right for Nuka. Breeding season is chugging along, and the biological clock is ticking.