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Alaska Life

Polar bears saved by human intervention draw crowds in Kentucky, Toronto

  • Author: Jill Burke
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 13, 2014

Two polar bears have been making national headlines recently; one 3-month-old bear is charming audiences in Toronto with his clumsy but oh-so-cute first steps and squeaky growls. Meanwhile, a cub found abandoned on Alaska's North Slope in 2011 recently celebrated her third birthday in Kentucky.

Both are survivors.

In June 2011, that polar bear cub was discovered abandoned on a North Slope oil field, too young to get by on her own. And in November 2013, a set of triplets was born in captivity in Toronto. And although the Toronto cub had his mother at his side, his siblings died within two days of birth, and he looked to be headed for the same fate. Neither of the cubs would have survived without human help.

Now, as 2014 gets off to a start, both bears appear to be doing well. One is a thriving three-month old. The other, a powerful three-year-old.

During the summer of 2011, the Alaska polar bear had somehow become separated from her mother and twin. She'd been seen with them earlier in the week. But now, they were nowhere to be found. She soon became known as Qannik, a name given to her by the oilfield workers who found her. Qannik is an Iñupiaq word for snowflake, and the gravel pad where she was found bears the same name. Before long, she'd make her way to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, and ultimately, to Louisville, Ky., where a new state-of-the-art facility excitedly welcomed her.

The other polar bear cub, born Nov. 9, 2013 at the Toronto Zoo doesn't yet have a name. He is the offspring of a bear named Aurora, herself a rescue from the wild into captivity.

The little bear's zoo parents are thrilled with his progress and are documenting the milestones through photos and video, as many smitten parents do.

He's just begun balancing his nearly 10-pound body on all four legs, and is taking his first steps forward. He's learning to eat from a bowl. His eyes are open, he's teething and likes to gnaw on his blanket.

Watching these videos could get you into trouble, depending on where you view them. The cute factor is high, and you may find audible "aww"s slipping out.

There's the one of him purring, or "trilling," the sounds of a content, sleeping cub. Others show him crawling, rolling over, bottle feeding and learning to drink from a bowl.

As captive bears, both Qannik and the male cub are considered ambassadors for the species, subjects that will aid researchers in better understanding polar bear reproduction, and help bring awareness to climate change and species conservation.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)

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