Improved habitats unveiled at zoo

Staff Report

The new black bear habitat.

The new black bear habitat.

Courtesy photo | Columbus Zoo

Nora, the first polar bear born and raised at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since the opening of Polar Frontier moved to the Oregon Zoo last fall. The last day to see the nine-month-old bear at the Columbus Zoo was Labor Day, Sept. 5.

Nora was born on Nov. 6, 2015 at the Columbus Zoo. Her mother initially provided maternal care but, after about a week, she left the cub unattended in the den for prolonged periods of time. At that point, the Columbus Zoo care team made the difficult decision to hand-rear the cub and began providing round-the-clock care. Nora was about a pound when the care team began raising her; she now weighs more than 150 pounds.

While Nora will be greatly missed by her fans and care team in Central Ohio, her relocation to another outstanding facility increases the likeliness of another polar bear birth at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) approved the move so that the Columbus Zoo could provide the best environment for future cubs to be born. Would-be mothers require calm and quiet, which would not have been possible with the scheduled habitat sharing that occurred with Nora. The timing of Nora’s departure is critical for the success of possible cubs, as keepers had observed Aurora and Anana breeding with Nanuq. If they become pregnant, the female bears could enter their dens in October and could give birth as early as November.

The SSP recommendation was issued after Tasul – the bear whom Nora will be joining at the Oregon Zoo – lost her brother and habitat companion, Conrad. Tasul is good-natured and likely to befriend the beloved Nora.

Nora’s survival is momentous for animal care facilities across the country. Polar bear births are incredibly rare; these mammals have a 50 percent survival rate in their first weeks of life, both in the Arctic Circle and in human care. Very little documentation about proper newborn cub’s diet is available and, because every individual is unique, creating the ideal formula for Nora was one of the greatest challenges in her first days at the Columbus Zoo’s Intensive Care Unit. The Columbus Zoo care team recorded every notable behavior – including when she opened her eyes for the first time, what sort of mood she had been exhibiting at which stages of life, and even what sort of toys she was fond of – all in the hopes that this information could provide guidance for future care teams of a newborn polar bear cubs.

Per protocol, Nora will be in quarantine before she makes her first public appearance at her new home, the date of which has not yet been determined. She will be introduced to her Oregon Zoo care team while still in Ohio, and her Columbus Zoo care team will travel with her to Oregon to help facilitate her transition.

North American habitat

After being behind-the-scenes for a few months, certain animals in the North America region at the Columbus Zoo in Powell have been moving into their new and improved habitats recently .

The North America Renovation Project was made possible by a cultural facilities grant appropriation provided by the state of Ohio through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, zoo officials said. The project broke ground in March.

“The North America region was the zoo’s original region and, having undergone only minor adjustments since its establishment in 1984, its age was beginning to show,” said Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo. “With the state’s support, we were able to revitalize this important piece of Columbus Zoo history.”

The project included improvements to the cougar, otter and bobcat habitats. It also provided for a black bear habitat, which allowed the Columbus Zoo to house this species for the first time since 2012.

Overall, the renovations included expanding habitats, improving guest visibility, providing easier access for keepers conducting routine medical procedures, and introducing more enrichment devices to encourage their natural behavior. Those devices include a wobble pole, climbing platform, and canoe for the bears, and hammocks for all the animals moving into new spaces. Guests will have access to play with similar enrichment pieces located along the public pathways.

“North America is one of my favorite regions at the zoo because it showcases the amazing creatures living right here on this continent,” Stalf said. “What better way to instill the values of personal responsibility, when it comes to conservation, than by coming face to face with an animal that shares your habitat.”

This region is home to many rescued orphans, including the bobcats, bears and cougars. The newest orphan arrivals at North America are the bear cubs Joanie and Stevie, who were rescued last winter when they were both about one year old.

Joanie, who has a black coat, arrived on Feb. 29 from Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Stevie, who has a cinnamon-colored coat, arrived March 3 from Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Joanie earned her name when her unusually spiky fur reminded Columbus Zoo keepers of the rock star Joan Jett. The second cub appeared to have “nicks” on her ears caused by frostbite so, in continuing the rock theme, keepers named her after Stevie Nicks.

The dynamic duo made their first, unofficial debut late last month, as one of the cubs breached the enclosure. No animals or visitors were harmed, and adjustments were made to the habitat.

The new black bear habitat. new black bear habitat. Courtesy photo | Columbus Zoo

Staff Report

Information for this story was provided by the Columbus Zoo.

Information for this story was provided by the Columbus Zoo.