It’s not every day that I get invited out for cocktails with two beautiful females.
So when Dayna Bakkum, development assistant at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory invited me along, it was hard to refuse.
I knew it would cost me, and not just the price of a couple of cocktails, I realized that I’d also be expected to make a financial contribution to the upkeep of these two local beauties that are destined to become big celebrities in this town.
The girls in question are Kaska and Aurora, two young polar bear cubs who recently arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
Bakkum told me Aurora was found wandering alone near the airport in Churchill about a year ago. She was less than a year old had had little chance of survival without her mother.
It was a similar story for Kaska, another orphaned cub, who usually stay with their mothers for two years in order to develop the survival skills they need in the wild.
The decision to bring these bear cubs to our zoo was made by Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship. These decisions are usually made as a last resort when there is no other viable option to rehabilitate the animal.
When they arrived at the zoo, they were initially quarantined in the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) which is a facility designed to help transition wild bears into a life of captivity.
Laura Cabrak, Communications Manager for Assiniboine Park Conservatory, told me how this past summer both Kaska and Aurora were moved out from IPBCC to the Journey to Churchill exhibit, where they joined Storm, another formerly wild polar bear, and Hudson, who was born into captivity at the Toronto Zoo.
She also told me of two more, so far un-named polar bears cubs, which are now in the IPBCC. Awaiting their own cocktail party no doubt.
If, like me, you’ve not visited our zoo for quite some time, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. The days of caging animals for public display are thankfully long gone.
I can still remember Debby the last polar denizen of Assiniboine Park wandering back and forth in her concrete enclosure totally devoid of anything except a small pool.
Was her back and forth dance brought on by boredom or madness from her solitary confinement? Debby was 42-years-old when she died, and she spent 41 of those years in that concrete enclosure. That’s double the life expectancy of a polar bear in captivity.
Fortunately, it’s a different story today.
Don Peterkin, who was recently hired from the Calgary Zoo explained the new enclosure is twenty times as large as the old one.
The Journey to Churchill exhibit opened on July 3 and is shaping up to be a world class facility. It has already hosted 250,000 visitors in the past three months. You enter by the Gateway to the Arctic, which features the domed Aurora Borealis theatre where a 360 degree screen gives visitors an all-encompassing view of arctic tundra.
An interesting feature is the tank with underwater viewing tunnels where you can see the bears swimming.
Unfortunately, this part of the exhibit has been temporarily closed after one of the bears chewed through the tank’s sealant. Half a million gallons of water had to be drained in order to repair it. The new sealant takes 28 days to cure and the facility should be open again by month’s end.
The cocktail party I attended in the Tundra Grill was the second one hosted by the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. The first one held the previous week was over-subscribed so an additional one was scheduled.
Dr. Brian Joseph, Director of Zoological Operations, gave a short presentation explaining how the IPBCC is the only facility of its kind in the world. In addition to rehabilitating bears it also engages in arctic research work.
The Journey to Churchill has room to easily accommodate twenty bears making it the world’s largest polar bear exhibit.
And the girls performed for us, frolicking right in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Both took a swim prior to our cocktail party but then one rolled in the mud. Don’t think I’ve seen a black polar bear before.