Buffalo rolled out the red carpet for its newest polar bear cub Wednesday.
But Kali’s time at the Buffalo Zoo may be short-lived.
“As far as we know today, the decision is just to keep Kali here through the summer. I don’t think they have decided where he will go next – that hasn’t been determined,” said Donna M. Fernandes, the zoo’s president, referring to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has ownership of the bear.
“We’d obviously like to keep him,” she added later, “but that’s not under our control.”
The 5-month-old, 65-pound orphaned cub was recovered from his den in northwest Alaska at 2 months of age after his mother was killed by a hunter who said he was unaware she was nursing.
Kali arrived in Buffalo via UPS Airlines at 5:19 a.m., after a 14-hour trip from Anchorage that included a stopover in Louisville, Ky. The bear traveled in a stainless steel crate and was examined in Louisville by Buffalo Zoo veterinarian Dr. Kurt A. Volle, who found him to be in good condition.
The Saint Louis Zoo, which like Buffalo is about to build a new polar bear exhibit, is considered to have the inside track as Kali’s permanent home.
Whatever the length of Kali’s time in Buffalo, zoo officials were excited to about his arrival.
“I’m delighted to announce that Kali has arrived safely in Buffalo,” Fernandes said, hours after showing up at the airport with a small delegation to welcome the cub, and minutes before signing a ceremonial waybill accepting the bear cub’s custody from UPS.
“Obviously, Luna has become the darling of Buffalo, and we’re really excited that she will have a playmate that she will be meeting very soon,” Fernandes said.
As Fernandes spoke, the bear cub who is a month older and 15 pounds heavier than Kali frolicked in a pool of water behind her, in the exhibit that Kali will be introduced to in the coming weeks.
Kali attracted big crowds, too, at the Alaska Zoo, and will be missed, said Patrick Lampi, the zoo’s executive director, who made the trek to Buffalo with the zoo’s curator.
“There were long lines, and lots of giggling adults along with children having joy watching the cub grow and become more and more active,” Lampi said. “This is the best thing for the cub, to be with another one to grow up and be active with and socialize with.”
Kali will be kept in quarantine for a week to make sure he didn’t pick up a disease or parasites while in the wild.
After that, Kali will be slowly introduced to the outdoor exhibit he is expected to begin sharing with Luna in early June.
Fernandes said the two cubs will be gradually introduced to each other until they are allowed full physical contact, with multiple spaces present so neither could be cornered. She said the process of introduction – which is usually more difficult with adults – has begun.
“They are already aware of each other, can smell each other and hear each other vocalize,” Fernandes said.
Kali’s arrival was made possible through the combined efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alaska and Buffalo zoos, UPS and M&T Bank, which paid for the bear’s transport.
“We greatly appreciate the Buffalo Zoo for providing Kali’s temporary home,” said Kofi Fynn-Aikins, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Polar bears are integral for the marine environment and depend upon it for survival in the wild.
He noted how habitat and population decline resulted in the species being added to the “threatened” list in 2008.
Buffalo’s new exhibit is being designed with orphaned bears in mind.
Because of global warming, sea ice is now melting earlier in the spring and forming later in the fall, putting more strain on polar bear mothers, who increasingly are unable to make it back to their dens from long fishing trips.
Kali will join Luna in helping rev up interest to close the $3 million gap that remains before bids can go out for the Arctic Edge exhibit in the target month of July, with construction then following after Labor Day.
The zoo’s new $4 million entrance is expected to open July 1.