For three years, a female named Berlin has been the sole attraction at the Kansas City Zoo's polar bear exhibit. Those days will soon be over: Another female named Bam Bam should arrive from Omaha sometime this month (the zoo is not disclosing the exact date).
Berlin, who is 28, has lived alone at the zoo since 2015, when the male polar bear Nikita moved to the North Carolina Zoo for breeding. He and Berlin had spent three years living together, but had not produced any cubs.
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo is clearing space for a new site called Coastal Shores, and decided to send 30-year-old Bam Bam to Kansas City.
Sean Putney, the Kansas City Zoo's senior director of zoological operations, says he is excited to have a third polar bear in its exhibit, which opened in 2010.
Although he says that polar bears are “loners,” he doesn't expect Bam Bam and Berlin to have any problems living in the same space.
Bam Bam will travel from Omaha in a truck with a special refrigerating system and cameras so that the stuff can monitor her condition during the three-hour trip.
After coming to Kansas City, she'll spend another month acclimatizing to her new home and getting to know Berlin. Visitors will be able to see her in May.
Another reason he's happy to have Bam Bam, Putney says, is that polar bears are going through tough times in the wild as ice shelves shrink and they have fewer places to hunt.
“The population of the polar bears, not only in zoos but in the natural environment, is getting smaller and smaller each year,” he says. “We try to do as much as we can to promote conservation and help those animals.”
The number of polar bears in zoos has generally gone down, he says, as old animals die without producing cubs. Moreover, restrictions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service don't allow bears to be brought from other countries for breeding.
“We really consider them to be the ambassadors of their species," he says, "and hopefully, as people come back to the zoo they will not only see the bears but talk about some issues that some of the animals we have here are facing in their natural environments.”
Anna Yakutenko is a Alfred Friendly Fellow working at KCUR 89.3. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.