Nora, the first polar bear born and raised at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since the opening of Polar Frontier, is scheduled to move to the Oregon Zoo this fall. The last day to see the nine-month-old bear at the Columbus Zoo will be Labor Day, Sept. 5.
Please note that Nora is only on view in the morning – typically from about 9 to 10:30 a.m., depending on when she decides to go inside for her nap. She does not make public appearances later in the day.
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 (pronounced TOSS-ull) is considered very good natured and likely to befriend the beloved Nora.
Tasul and Nora already share something in common in that they represent significant advancements in polar bear welfare. Before Nora contributed to the country’s understanding of how to raise polar bears in human care, Tasul became the first polar bear in the world to voluntarily give blood, helped scientists study how climate change affects wild polar bears’ diets, and continues to help researchers develop methods to remotely investigate how polar bears respond to shrinking sea ice.
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.
“To think back to that first week of her life, when there was such a high chance that she would not survive, we cannot be anything but happy to see her grow into the strong, playful and intelligent bear she has become,” said Columbus Zoo President and CEO Tom Stalf. “We are overjoyed to share this important milestone in Nora’s life with the fantastic care team at the Oregon Zoo.”
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.
The greatest threat polar bears face in their native habitat of the Arctic Circle is the loss of sea ice due to climate change. The melting landscape creates a dangerous survival cycle for the bears; they have less surface area on which to hunt, which means more swimming, which requires more calories, which can only be consumed through more hunting. The shrinking habitat also makes finding a denning area less likely, and the stress of this and the diet challenges result in lower survival rates of cubs.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is dedicated to conserving polar bear populations in the wild, and is recognized as an Arctic Ambassador by Polar Bears International. 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.
For more information about the Columbus Zoo and the Polar Frontier region, visit ColumbusZoo.org.