New York’s Central Park Zoo needs a polar bear.
So does the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
The St. Louis Zoo is also seeking a white bear.
So it should come as no surprise that some zoos are casting a covetous eye on Kali, the orphaned polar bear who found a home at the Buffalo Zoo.
In fact, rumors within the zoo community suggest that federal wildlife officials, the custodians of Kali, are exerting political pressure to take the bear out of Buffalo, according to Donna Fernandes, the zoo’s president.
That’s why Fernandes is looking for an ally in Sen. Charles E. Schumer.
New York’s senior senator called Daniel Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this week and urged him to ensure the 10-month-old cub stays in Buffalo, at least until he turns 2 years old. That’s the age when polar bears typically become solitary animals.
“It’s clear to me that if you do what’s best for the bear itself, it would be to leave him in Buffalo,” Schumer told The Buffalo News. “First, he has Luna.”
Luna is Buffalo’s other polar bear cub, a female and just one of three polar bear cubs born in a zoo in 2012.
“Second,” Schumer said, “he’s happily adapted there and to move him would be difficult. And third, there is potential, down the road, for little baby bears.
“I called Fish and Wildlife and made the arguments why they should keep Kali in Buffalo. I got a sympathetic hearing, and I am optimistic after my call that there can be a good outcome.”
Fernandes hopes so.
“For us, it’s always been what’s in the best interest for Kali,” she said. “Until age two, bears usually have a very stable environment with their mother, and we just want to maintain that. He’s doing so well, they both are, after starting off with such a troubled beginning.” The zoo’s fundraising efforts to build the Arctic Edge exhibit took a big step forward Friday with the announcement that $650,000 for the polar bear exhibit was contained in Mayor Byron W. Brown’s 2014 recommended capital budget. That would reduce the gap by nearly half, leaving the zoo $750,000 shy of its goal.
The zoo’s board of directors voted Tuesday to proceed with construction of the $14 million exhibit with a planned opening in September 2015.
Kali was orphaned at 2 months of age in northwest Alaska, after his mother was killed by a hunter who said he didn’t realize she was nursing.
How long Kali will remain in Buffalo beyond age 2 is an open question, since a news release the Fish and Wildlife Service issued to announce his transfer from Alaska to Buffalo indicated he could wind up at the St. Louis Zoo when it reopens its polar bear habitat in 2015. “Ultimately, it is up to Fish and Wildlife where he goes, and that is a possibility,” Fernandes said.
She’s more concerned about the short-term for now. The bear was only supposed to stay until September. But last summer, an expert in orphaned bears evaluated Kali and concluded that while Luna was well adjusted, the same wasn’t true for her male friend.
“Kali had a lot of issues. He had chronic paw sucking behavior and was very fearful of new situations, not uncommon for animals with troubled beginnings. Kali is doing better, but he follows Luna everywhere. Luna has been very helpful for him,” Fernandes said.
The presence of Luna, who is a month older, contributed to the decision then for Kali to stay put, something the zoo director hopes will continue to be a factor in allowing him to stay longer.