Patches, a female polar bear, will fill a bare spot in the N.C. Zoo’s park when she arrives this month.
The zoo has been working with the Polar Bear Species Survival Program to acquire bears for its exhibit, which has been under renovation for two years. A global polar bear shortage has had officials worried they might not have an occupant for the exhibit once improvements are completed late next year.
The zoo’s last two polar bears, Willie and Aquila, died within weeks of each other earlier this year. Both had been moved out of the zoo during the early phase of the renovation. Aquila, 21, moved back in April but died in September of a ruptured stomach. Willie, nearly 29, had to be euthanized in October at the Milwaukee County Zoo when he stopped eating and couldn’t stand.
At 25, Patches is also an older bear, now living at the Erie Zoo in Pennsylvania. That zoo is undergoing renovations of its own, including work on its existing polar bear exhibit, and needs to move Patches so the work can begin.
Zoo spokesman Rod Hackney said keepers from the N.C. Zoo will go to Erie to help transport Patches to North Carolina. She will occupy the original polar bear habitat until the exhibit’s $8.5 million enlargement and improvements are finished.
Polar bears are enormously popular at zoos where they are exhibited, but they are not simple to keep in captivity, and their numbers have diminished in the wild because of habitat loss. Very few are born in zoos each year, and because they are considered a threatened species, they can’t be taken from the wild unless they are orphaned babies or adults that are in such distress they wouldn’t otherwise survive.
Patches was born in November 1987 at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., and moved to Erie in December 2007.
“The N.C. Zoo was selected by the (Species Survival Program) as the best option available, because of the quality of our polar bear facilities and the opportunities that it provides, not only for Patches but, hopefully, other polar bears as well,” said Dr. Adrian Fowler, N.C. Zoo curator of mammals.