Valentine’s day has come and gone, but it seems love is still in the air over at the North Carolina Zoo. Nikita is a 9 year old male polar bear who was brought to North Carolina from the Kansas City zoo in early January, in the hopes of pairing him with Anana, the zoo’s 16 year old resident female. Sparks, reportedly, did not fly with his old mate in Kansas City, so the Association of Zoos and Aquariums decided it was time to let Nikita have another shot at romance while he is still in his prime.
Nikita was accompanied on his journey from Kansas City by the EMC’s second-year zoological medicine resident, Dr. Sarah Cannizzo and one of the NC Zoo’s bear keepers. The transportation team handled all of the small glitches that go with flying a polar bear from Kansas City through Memphis to Ashboro, NC with ease and grace. After spending about a month in routine biosecurity quarantine and then in nearby holding to get acclimated to his new surroundings, Nikita was introduced to Anana in a private meeting off of exhibit last Wednesday, February 10th. New introductions can be unpredictable, but the bears appear to have taken an immediate shine to each other. Weighing in at 600 and 1,200 pounds, respectively, Anana and Nikita make an odd couple, but they are getting along so well that they can now be seen on exhibit together happily exploring side-by-side.
Less than 20% of all AZA-accredited institutions house polar bears, for a total of only 60 bears on exhibit across the United States. The decline in their wild populations means that captive breeding efforts are more important than ever for their survival, and, as his mother was born in the wild, Nikita’s genes are particularly valuable for maintaining diversity among captive polar bear populations. Nikita’s sire and grandsire were both known for their virility, and the hope is that he will be able to continue his lineage’s impressive breeding record. It is still too early to tell, but with any luck the Valentine’s weekend romance budding between Nikita and Anana will result in a conservation victory for polar bears everywhere.