on March 1, 2013 - 11:59 AM
, updated March 1, 2013 at 2:07 PM
All eyes were on a cuddly three-month-old polar bear cub as she made her first public appearance at the Buffalo Zoo on Friday, while artist renderings nearby revealed what her new home will look like – and what visitors will see.
The cub – which resembles a fluffy, white teddy bear – was put in a makeshift enclosure, where she purred audibly after being bottle-fed by veterinary technician Alice Rochauer, and then playfully nipped at her and Zoo President Donna Fernandes.
The little bear’s entrance highlighted the kickoff to the zoo’s $4 million “Our Bears Belong in Buffalo” community fundraising campaign. Fernandes said that if the three-month campaign is successful, the new “Arctic Edge” exhibit – and the cub’s future home – will go out to bid this summer for a planned 2015 opening.
“We have been so gratified by the comunity’s ongoing support of the zoo, and we are turning to you once again to help us meet our final goal,” Fernandes said. “We’re about 80 percent [there], but we need the community to help us with the last 20 percent.
“We’re hoping to keep the cub here, but that can only happen if we can [open the exhibit] on time.”
The coolest feature of the Arctic Edge may be the two pools of water – one shallow, the other deeper – with viewing windows that will allow viewers to come nose-to-nose with the curious bears.
The renderings by Foit-Albert Associates show the bears occupying two of the six enclosures. There also will be separate viewing areas for bald eagles, waterfowl, arctic wolves and Canadian lynx.
The 1.5-acre exhibit was designed by Gwen Howard, the principal architect for several other newer exhibits in the zoo, including M&T Bank Rainforest Falls.
“In keeping with the theme of the exhibit that the zoo is doing now, this is a true immersive exhibit, where the patron will walk through a variety of animal habits so they feel they are at the ‘arctic edge,’ ” Howard said.
To date, $14.2 million of the $18 million has been raised for the polar bear exhibit and the relocated entrance that will open this summer. The zoo’s previous, century-old stone enclosure for polar bears no longer met current national zoo standards, forcing the zoo to temporarily relocate the cub’s parents until the new exhibit can open.
Howard said the exhibit had to meet standards established by Manitoba, Canada, where there are many orphaned polar bears, for it to be eligible in the future to obtain polar bears from there. Those standards have been adopted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the accreditation agency for zoos.
The standards deal with animal husbandry, and educating the public about global warming, environmental changes and the importance of preserving nature.
There also will be a new one-story building made of precast concrete that’s stained a dark tone and ornamented with Inuit silkstone carvings sandblasted into the exterior.
Rochauer, the veterinary technician, has served as a surrogate mom for the little bear, who weighed 1.5 pounds when she was born at the zoo on Nov. 27, and is now up to 23 pounds. Her birth was a rare occurrence, just one of only three polar bears born to two mothers in captivity last year in the United States. Only 31 zoos in the country have polar bears.
When Rochauer was asked how quickly the bear was expected to grow, she answered, “I really don’t know because I don’t have anything to compare her to. [She’s] my first bear.”
Anana, the cub’s mother, did not display maternal instincts, but Fernandes said she didn’t expect the bear to experience later socialization problems.
“Polar bears tend to be solitary, and have been hand-raised successfully and incorporated well. They always have to go through an introduction with new animals, whether parent-reared or hand-reared, so I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
Anana now resides at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago, while the cub’s father, Nanuq, is at the Columbus Zoo.
The cub is being called Luna for now but Fernandes said there will be a name contest on Facebook. There also will be a camera set up in the rainforest pavilion to record the cub’s movements. She encouraged people to make a “polar pledge” at www.buffalozoo.org, or by texting zoobear256512.