The first polar bear to be born in the UK for 25 years has been announced by The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
The birth was confirmed by staff at Highland Wildlife Park after distinct high-pitched sounds were heard coming from female polar bear Victoria’s maternity den.
Polar bear cubs enter the world blind, around 30cm long and weigh little more than a guinea pig when born. They only open their eyes when they are a month old and are entirely dependent on their mother’s fat-rich milk to grow quickly, weighing around ten to 12 kg by the time they leave the den.
Although the birth is an “outstanding achievement which will have interest across the world”, the charity stressed that the first three months are perilous for polar bear cubs, whether wild or captive born.
Una Richardson, the park’s Head Keeper responsible for carnivores, said, “We first heard promising noises in the week before Christmas and these have now continued into the new year. Because we don’t have sight inside her cubbing box we can’t be sure if Victoria has had more than one cub but we can confirm the birth.
“While we are absolutely thrilled, we are not celebrating prematurely as polar bear cubs have a high mortality rate in the first weeks of life due to their undeveloped immune system and the mother’s exaggerated need for privacy, with any disturbance risking the cub being killed or abandoned.
“We will continue to monitor Victoria and very much hope for the best possible news when she emerges around March. Until then, Victoria’s enclosure will be closed to the public and keeper activity will be at a minimum to give her offspring every chance of survival.”
Highland Wildlife Park provide a naturalistic habitat for their polar bears in a climate that is not so different from the one they have evolved to cope with. Polar bear breeding season began in March last year, during which Victoria, who arrived in 2015, mated with Arktos, one of the park’s two males.
The polar bears at Highland are part of the European Endangered Species Programme and it is hoped that Victoria’s offspring will go on to help restore a markedly reduced and fragmented wild population.
For further information on Highland Wildlife Park go to http://www.highlandwildlifepark.org.uk/