Kali is staying put at the Buffalo Zoo.
The orphaned Alaskan polar bear will remain in Buffalo at least until spring 2015 and continue to grow up with Luna, the female cub he has grown attached to.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer made the announcement Tuesday after getting assurances from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s director and despite political pressure from other states wanting Kali for zoos in need of polar bears.
“I have received word from Fish and Wildlife that Kali will be able to stay here through at least the spring of 2015,” Schumer said in front of the zoo’s temporary polar bear exhibit.
“They are not going to ship Kali off, and Kali and Luna will spend time until they become adults. At that point, we will make every effort, of course, with the new quarters, to keep them there for a longer period of time. But we’ve been granted a reprieve,” Schumer said.
Schumer said Fish and Wildlife officials told him Kali’s stay is contingent upon the zoo passing a standard 2014 inspection, as it is expected to do.
The opening of the $14 million Arctic Edge exhibit, which will include arctic wolves, lynx and bald eagles, is projected for September 2015.
Zoo President Donna Fernandes was relieved to know Kali will be able to at least reach the age of 2 – the time when polar bears typically become solitary animals – without further upheaval.
Keeping the cubs together as they grow up also increases the chance of successful reproduction, she said.
“One of the things that has been well established is that the earlier two bears can be put together, the greater likelihood of breeding success,” Fernandes said. “It would be best in terms of the pair breeding at some point to keep them together.”
Females are able to reproduce at age 4, males at age 6.
New York’s senior senator called Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel Ash last week to urge him to keep Kali in Buffalo.
Many zoos have had a difficult time replacing their polar bears – classified as an endangered species – after they pass away.
The Asheboro-based North Carolina Zoo, currently undergoing an $8.5 million renovation and expansion of its polar bear exhibit, was seeking a polar bear after both of its bears died within weeks of each other. But the zoo announced Nov. 6 that it is acquiring a 25-year-old polar bear from the Erie Zoo in Erie, Pa.
How long Kali will remain in Buffalo remains a question, since the federal agency indicated early on that he could wind up at the St. Louis Zoo, which is reopening its polar bear habitat in 2015. Schumer said he is prepared to make the case again in the future to keep Kali in Buffalo.
“When the Arctic Edge exhibit is fully completed, we believe we will have very, very strong arguments to keep Kali and Luna here for a long time to come,” he said. “It’s great to see them here, they are favorites of the Buffalo community, and attendance at the zoo is way up.”
Tuesday’s announcement continues the positive news coming the zoo’s way.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday that the state will provide the final $750,000 needed to pay for the Arctic Edge exhibit. That was barely a week after Mayor Byron W. Brown announced $650,000 would be allocated for the project from the city’s 2014 capital budget.
The next big phase for the zoo will be making changes to the Africa exhibit, Fernandes said. First, the zoo plans, after Arctic Edge is completed, to convert the zoo’s former gift shop into a sit-down restaurant with healthy menu choices and outdoor tables in the summer months. The restaurant will overlook the lynx exhibit on what will be called “Arctic Plaza.”