Polar bears are classified as marine mammals (just like seals, whales, and dolphins) because they spend so much time out on the sea ice and depend on the ocean to live. Of course, unlike whales, polar bears can walk and even run on land. Polar bears are generally considered the biggest bears on earth!
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Polar Bear Plunge at the San Diego Zoo was transformed into a winter wonderland early this morning, as nearly 26 tons of glistening white snow blanketed the polar bear exhibit. The three bears—Kalluk, Tatqiq and Chinook—showed their excitement by frolicking in the snow. They rolled around in the fresh powder and wrestled with each other all morning long. Animal care staff also scattered yams, carrots, melons and beef femur bones throughout the exhibit as added enrichment, and watched as the bears pounced and dug for their prizes.
This surprise snowy enrichment was made possible by donors who contributed to the animal care wish list on the San Diego Zoo website, sandiegozoo.org. Enrichment is very important for the bears, as it stimulates them, keeps them active and promotes natural behaviors.
“This was a special day for the polar bears, and I could tell they really loved it,” said Susan Purtell, senior keeper, San Diego Zoo. “It was great seeing them roll around in the snow, showcasing their natural behaviors.”
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Some of those behaviors include sliding, digging and pouncing on the snow. Bears utilize these behaviors to help them break through ice to reach seal dens. All three bears were rescued at a young age, so they had to learn these behaviors without the help of their mothers. Kalluk and Tatqiq’s mom was shot and killed when they were young cubs, and Chinook’s mother was nowhere to be found when the young cub was discovered roaming around the streets of a city alone.
As a threatened species, polar bears face danger from poachers and habitat loss, mostly due to climate change.
Zoo guests can visit Kalluk, Tatqiq and Chinook at Polar Bear Plunge during the San Diego Zoo’s Jungle Bells celebration presented by California Coast Credit Union. During Jungle Bells, guests will be treated to twinkling holiday lights, merrymaking activities, live music performances and festive foods.