The Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, Scotland have welcomed the UK’s only female polar bear in the hope of breeding from her.
Head of living collections Douglas Richardson said: “We are delighted to welcome a female polar bear to the Highlands. Victoria will need to settle in, but visitors should be able to meet our new arrival in a couple of weeks. Her enclosure is completely separate to Walker and Arktos’, as male and female polar bears live separately in the wild.
“During the polar bear breeding season, which generally falls between March and May, we will gradually introduce her to Arktos and the two will stay together until they hopefully mate, when the male will be returned to the bachelor enclosure.
“A great deal of thought and planning has gone into developing Victoria’s enclosure. It is a large area featuring a large pond and plenty of natural ground for her to explore. In addition to the main enclosure, there is an adjacent smaller holding enclosure with its own pool that will initially house the male until the signs are right for the introduction. This extra enclosure allows us to also use a visiting male from another zoo, should the breeding programme recommend it, and we are not aware of any other polar bear breeding facility that has this degree of flexibility.
“A polar bear has not been born in the UK for many years and we hope our novel approach to enclosure design and the correspondingly unique husbandry regime will quickly translate into success. The birth and rearing of polar bears cubs will be of real value to the regional breeding programme, help to highlight the plight of polar bears in the wild, and will be incredibly positive for Highland Wildlife Park.”
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has a history of designing state-of-the art polar bear enclosures that meet the animals’ needs to the highest level possible. Animal experts from the park have since been invited to consult and advise on other polar bear enclosures both in the UK and around the world.
Victoria previously gave birth in 2008. Milak, her first cub, became an online sensation when hundreds of thousands of people followed the early days of the cub’s life while it was still in the maternity den. It was one of the first times webcams were able to show what life is like with a mother and a newborn cub. Last December, at natural dispersal age, Milak was transported to Zoo Saint-Félicien in Quebec as part of an exchange to augment the Canadian captive polar bear programme.
The last female polar bear to live in the UK was Mercedes, who died in April 2011.