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PRESS RELEASE

BIRTH OF A POLAR BEAR CUB AT ZOO SAUVAGE DE SAINT-FÉLICIEN

Saint-Félicien (Québec), November 30, 2018. – The female polar bear Aisaqvak gave birth to a cub on Tuesday November 27, 2018. The cub was born during the night. It is in the morning, as she was starting her shift, that the animal caregiver heard noises coming from the lair. It was quite a surprise to hear the remarkably strong cry of a newborn.

You might remember that Aisaqvak gave birth to a cub on December 03, 2008. The cub did not survive but the mother was able to demonstrate her excellent parenting skills when she gave birth to a male and a female cub the following year, on November 30, 2009. The male, Ganuk, at the Toronto Zoo, and the female, Taïga, at Aquarium du Québec, are now 9 years old.

Intense efforts were made starting in 2011 to repeat that feat, among others the arrival of the male Yellé in May 2011. After her cubs left in November 2011, Aisaqvak was now ready to meet her new beau. The springs of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 saw the efforts of the couple bear (pardon the pun) no results. The Zoo then made a breeding loan agreement with Aquarium du Québec. Their male Eddy came to the Zoo while Yellé went to the Aquarium. Eddy also tried to impregnate Aisaqvak in 2015 and 2016, but without success. Well, Yellé mated again with his girl in the spring of 2018 and is now the proud father of a 3-day old baby. Yellé is now 13 years old and Aisaqvak 16. They are considered in their peak reproductive years until they turn 24.

Why a litter this year and not in previous years? Nobody knows. The caregiver had noticed however that the female had not been in estrus (heat) following the spring mating sessions, as had been the case in previous years. It was a hopeful sign… The species is not easy to breed in our institutions and the delayed implantation process (the fertilized eggs only adhere to the uterine wall around September) makes it difficult to detect the pregnancy. Did you know the cub weighs about 600 grams (less than a pound and a half) at birth? Aisaqvak weighs 330 kg. The cub weighs .18% of the mother’s weight. By contrast, on average, a female porcupine weighing 7 kg gives birth to a baby weighing 490 g, 7% of the mother’s weight. Impressive!

A contribution to the conservation of the species

This birth is highly meaningful for the Zoo and the worldwide population, especially since Aisaqvak is an excellent mother. The polar bear populations are on the decrease in the wild (listed Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature), as well as in captivity. In 2006, there were 364 polar bears in institutions worldwide. The 2015 figures, the most recent, list a population of 298 individuals. Aisaqvak comes from the wild and Yellé has never reproduced before. Their genetic baggage will be important to the genetic diversity of the captive population.

The first 72 hours following birth are critical, but the survival of the newborn is not guaranteed yet. In 2015, 13 females gave birth to 20 cubs in our organizations the world over, and 50% of them did not reach their first birthday. But the chances are good of seeing our baby grow up, thanks to his mother’s care, and to the team at the Zoo monitoring their every move. As for the sex of the baby, it is going to take a few more weeks before we can confirm it.

Starting in the spring of 2019, Aisaqvak and her baby will discover their new habitat, to the delight of the visitors. Cubs usually take their first steps outside at 3 months of age. In 2009, it is only when they turned 6 months that the cubs were released in their habitat, which was not as well adapted as the new one, – inaugurated in 2018 -, to receive very young cubs. The public will be invited to take part in this one-of-a-kind event that very few zoos in the world have had an opportunity to witness.

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Source: Lauraine Gagnon, Director General: 418-679-0543 (5224)

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