None of 3 polar bear cubs born at Tallinn Zoo survive

  • 2023-11-21
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - None of the three cubs that the polar bear Friida gave birth to at Tallinn Zoo late last week survived, the zoo announced on Tuesday.

The polar bear sow began giving birth in the late evening of Friday, Nov. 17. By Saturday morning, she had given birth to three cubs, the last of whom was stillborn. Friida lifted all three cubs, including the stillborn one, to her chest. By Monday morning all the cubs were dead, however.

The cubs will be subjected to an autopsy at the Estonian University of Life Sciences to establish the cause of their death.

The recommendation to give 20-year-old polar bear Friida one last chance to breed was made by Douglas M. Richardson, coordinator of the European breeding program. The polar bear population in the world's zoos is managed by a species coordinator, who selects the males and the females for mating, provides advice to the zoo in question and monitors progress. After a failed breeding attempt at the end of last year, Friida underwent a thorough health check earlier this year by renowned Danish veterinary reproductive medicine specialist Kathrine Thejll Kirchhoff. The health check revealed no health problems and based on the results, it was decided to give Friida a last chance to have cubs.

Polar bears Friida and Rasputin mated in March.

In the summer, the reproduction program coordinator visited Tallinn Zoo to give advice on how to better prepare Friida for giving birth and provide the best conditions for cubs. The main task was to ensure complete silence in the area of the enclosure, as noise can cause additional stress and nervousness in the sow. Zoo staff measured noise levels and closed the road in front of the polar bear enclosure to all vehicles a month before the expected arrival of cubs. Rasputin, the male polar bear, lived outside, at some distance from the building, so as not to disturb the female bear. During the time Friida was preparing to give birth, not even the keepers entered the premises of the sow.

The question may arise as to why the zoo did not separate the bear cubs from the mother and raise them on bottle food. There are several reasons for this. Bear cubs brought up by humans do not acquire species-specific behavior. Growing up, they find it more difficult to interact with other polar bears, as well as have a friendlier attitude towards the people who reared them. Such behavior is very difficult, in some cases even impossible, to change. It is difficult to create an environment for bear cubs in which they will grow up in a species-specific manner. It is also difficult to provide them with artificial milk similar to sow's milk.

Most zoos in Europe no longer use the method of rearing bear cubs separate from their mothers, and the coordinator did not advise Tallinn Zoo to raise cubs in this way. As they grow bigger and stronger, bear cubs become dangerous for the keepers who raise them. Separating the mother bear from the cubs is also extremely difficult, as the mother becomes very aggressive when protecting her cubs. Separating mother bear and cubs would require anesthesia, which may be associated with risk to the bear.

Tallinn Zoo thanks all the specialists who participated in the studies and the employees of the zoo, who tried to create the best conditions for the polar bears for mating and giving birth.