Buffalo is infamous worldwide for its nasty winter weather.
Now it has a star who wears that weather like a fur coat.
The cuddly polar bear cub introduced here a month ago is stealing hearts from Buffalo to Australia and back again.
The debut went international – with photos and videos of the adorable bundle of fuzz gaining attention in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, India, Canada and Israel among other places around the globe. The New York Times, Washington Post, “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” were among those spreading the word about “Luna,” which is what the cub is being called until a permanent name is chosen in a contest now on Facebook.
That international fame for the cub is also attracting a lot of attention – as well as money – for the Buffalo Zoo, where she was born Nov. 27, one of only three polar bear cubs born in a U.S. zoo last year.
But the zoo is the second home the cub has known.
The morning after Luna was born, she went home with Alice Rohauer, the veterinary technician who has raised her. The cub’s mother, Anana, had become agitated shortly after giving birth to her 1½-pound cub. The mother went from den to den, and after awhile put the newborn down to pace. It was at that point that the curator and veterinarian decided to lock her out of her den and take the cub away.
“Anana was a younger mom, didn’t have much practice, and it’s not uncommon, even for the bears in the wild, to not really know what to do with the cubs, and they perish,” said Rohauer, a 26-year veteran of the zoo,
Rohauer was selected as the surrogate mother because she played a similar role for other zoo animals, including a baby spotted hyena last year, and before that an addax, reindeer and bighorn sheep. She also was a good candidate because she has the training to administer fluids and medication, could monitor the cub closely and call the vet at any hour.
At home in Cheektowaga
At Rohauer’s Cheektowaga home, Luna lived in a playpen with a lid on top in the living room. A heating source was used to replicate the mother’s body temperature of 98 degrees the first two weeks, after which the cub’s ability to regulate body temperature kicked in.
The cub was a challenge, Rohauer said, explaining how Luna grew quickly and became playful and raced around her home.
“She’d run around and chase my boyfriend around the house,” she explained. “But they are hunters. She would act like she was done playing, but if he turned his back and, say, washed his hands at the sink, she sought him out.
“She looked for her chance, and then she would take a bite at his pants. We’re easy prey,” Rohauer said.
Although the cub doesn’t like to be snuggled, Rohauer said she could examine her while the cub drank a milk replacer given to puppies, with taurene to help with vitamin absorption and lactates to help with bloating since polar bears are lactose-intolerant.
“She lets me do anything anytime she’s eating. There’s a sweet side to her then,” Rohauer said.
“She’s happy when she’s doing something she wants to do. When she gets unhappy, she’ll let you know. She’ll bite you. She doesn’t want to be snuggled,” Rohauer said.
In early March though, Rohauer realized the bear cub was getting too frisky to sleep overnight in her home.
Luna moved back into the zoo hospital March 10.
“I’m so grateful to Alice because this has been the major commitment in her life over the last four months, and she’s done an exceptional job,” said Donna Fernandes, the zoo’s president.
At the zoo
Inside her 8-by-10-foot caged space last week, Luna took turns playing with a frozen water bottle near the giant dog crate she sleeps in, and a group of large dog toys that also keep her occupied. A room next door allows her to lie in a small pool of water.
The cub, who now stand 31 inches tall and weighs 36 pounds, also occasionally gets to go into a small exhibit area next to the vet hospital in the mornings, which allows her to negotiate changes in topography to work on balance, and a pool where she can develop swimming skills.
The cub will live in the vet hospital until a new holding center is constructed before the completion of the exhibit, which will offer a pool and caging material.
Rohauer said she will appreciate other touchstones in the bear’s development as her physical involvement with Luna lessens. And she remains grateful for having personal contact with a creature that in the wild would hunt her just as it does seals and walruses.
“I know she will know me as an adult, and I’ll know if she recognizes me through the bars, and I’m fine with that. I can’t wait until she’s 100 pounds, and after that to see her in her new exhibit,” Rohauer said. “That’s where I go, to the future. It’s all about what’s in the best interest of the animal. I just know I did my part for their survival, and that’s satisfaction enough.”
That may be more than what the cub’s mother can experience. Anana now is in a zoo in Brookfield, Ill., and if she returns to Buffalo, she and her cub won’t recognize each other, Rohauer said.
Bringing in money
Meanwhile, all that national and international attention that Luna has brought to the Buffalo Zoo is helping with fundraising.
Contributions to the campaign for the new polar bear exhibit, which began March 1, now total more than $500,000, with over 56,000 in small donations.
“The response has been amazing. No one at the zoo can really remember a time when it was so great,” said Rachel Gottlieb, the zoo’s spokeswoman. “We’ve been getting large donations from as far away as California.”
The funds will go toward the $4 million needed to build the $14 million Arctic Edge exhibit space that will eventually be the new home for Luna and other arctic wildlife.
That could include the company of Kali, a similarly aged orphaned polar bear cub found near Point Lay, Alaska, March 12. That cub will be coming to the Buffalo Zoo later this spring, although it may eventually end up at the Saint Louis Zoo, which also is building a new polar bear exhibit expected to be completed in 2015.