The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has welcomed Lee, an 18-year-old male polar bear, who arrived from the Denver Zoo late yesterday afternoon to breed with twin sisters.
To continue the zoo’s breeding program for threatened and endangered species, the zoos are playing matchmaker and will introduce Lee to 11-year-old twin sisters, Aurora and Anana
Currently, there are less than 50 polar bears in North American zoos and the polar bears are facing increasing threats in their native range.
Zoo officials hope the polar bears will breed and produce offspring.
The Columbus Zoo has been successful in its polar bear breeding program with four surviving cubs born since the Zoo’s Polar Frontier region opened in 2010.
Nora, a female, born on Nov. 6, 2015, to mother, Aurora and now lives at Utah’s Hogle Zoo).
Amelia Gray, a female, born on Nov. 8, 2016, to mother, Anana.
And twins, Neva, a female and Nuniq, a male, was born on Nov. 14 to Aurora.
At over 650 pounds, Nuniq already outweighed his mother at the time of his move to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis. in September.
Amelia Gray and Neva moved to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore in October.
By moving the weaned bears to other facilities, this allows Lee to be introduced to Anana and Aurora.
Since the passing of Anana and Aurora’s former mate, Nanuq in 2017, this new breeding recommendation could potentially result in the births of cubs in the future.
These births are important to the survival of this species, which in 2008, became the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened primarily due to climate change.
“Lee is an extremely important ambassador for his threatened species, and we are proud to be a part of efforts to help sustain the polar bear population, raise public awareness, and support polar bear research in the Arctic. Together with our Central Ohio community and conservation partners, our Columbus Zoo and Aquarium team remains committed to making a positive difference for wildlife and wild places throughout the world,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President and CEO Tom Stalf.
Polar bears are native to the circumpolar north, including the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland). They are at the top of the Arctic food chain and primarily eat seals. Polar bear populations are declining due to the disappearance of sea ice, and experts estimate that only 20,000-25,000 polar bears are left in their native range. Some scientists believe if the warming trend continues, two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by the year 2050.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is dedicated to conserving polar bear populations in their native range. Since 2008, the Zoo has contributed more than $250,000 to research benefiting polar bears in the Arctic. The Zoo is also designated as an Arctic Ambassador Center by Polar Bears International (PBI). At the Columbus Zoo, visitors are encouraged to do their part to save this amazing species by turning off lights when leaving a room, minimizing their use of heating and cooling units, and other ways to reduce energy consumption.