First polar bear born in Britain in 25 years

The cub was born to Victoria (pictured), one of the three adult polar bears at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.
The cub was born to Victoria (pictured), one of the three adult polar bears at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - When the polar bear was born just before Christmas in Scotland - the first in Britain in 25 years - zoologists could confirm the occasion only because of the high-pitched sounds coming from the mother's den.

The cub did not emerge for weeks, but now the tiny polar bear is moving around "confidently", the zoo says, and will get the star treatment in a documentary set to air Sunday on Channel 4.

The mother, Victoria, is one of three adult polar bears at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland's Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig, near Aviemore. She mated with Arktos, one of two males at the park, and gave birth to the cub.

Una Richardson, the park's head keeper responsible for carnivores, said in a statement: "We couldn't be happier." Cameras were installed outside the female bear's den to capture everything, including the cub's first steps outside. The cub, whose name and gender were not immediately revealed, was born blind and weighing little more than a guinea pig, but is now the size of a Scottish terrier, the zoo says.

The cub is still suckling, but it was seen "picking up carrots and apples in its mouth and chewing on meat, even standing up on its back legs drinking water from the drinker".

"The cub is still quite vocal," added the zoo, "making grumbling noises as it moves around."

Some wildlife activists are critical of holding polar bears in zoos. The Born Free Foundation says that in captivity, the "intelligent and adaptable polar bears can suffer particularly badly".

But Douglas Richardson, manager of living collections at the park, said in a statement after the new cub was born: "If we do not develop and maintain a genetically and behaviourally robust captive polar bear population, we will not have the option, should we require it, to use them to support what is likely to be a diminished and fragmented wild population in the future."

Last year, a team of conservationists documented the plight of an emaciated polar bear in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The global population of polar bears currently stands at about 26,000. Biologists suggest that as the ice cover continues to decrease, there will be a significant drop in the population. A 2015 report projected a reduction of more than 30 per cent in the number of polar bears by 2050.

The last polar bear cubs to be born in the United Kingdom were twins at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire in 1992.