Environment

First polar bear born in Britain in 25 years to get star treatment

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The polar bear breeding season began in March last year, during which time Victoria mated with Arktos, one of the park’s two males.

Victoria with her cub.

Photo: AP

Una Richardson, the park's head keeper responsible for carnivores, said in a statement: "We couldn't be happier."

Just after the birth, she said: "While we are absolutely thrilled, we are not celebrating prematurely as polar bear cubs have a high mortality rate in the first weeks of life due to their undeveloped immune system and the mother's exaggerated need for privacy, with any disturbance risking the cub being killed or abandoned."

Cameras were installed outside the female bear's den to capture everything, including the cub's first steps outside. The cub, whose name and gender were not revealed, was born blind and weighing little more than a guinea pig, but is now the size of a Scottish terrier, the zoo says.

Victoria and her cub head back to their pen after exploring their outdoor enclosure.

Photo: AP

The cub is still suckling, but it was seen "picking up carrots and apples in its mouth and chewing on meat, even standing up on its back legs drinking water from the drinker," the zoo said.

"The cub is still quite vocal," it added, "making grumbling noises as it moves around."

Some wildlife activists are critical of holding polar bears in zoos. The Born Free Foundation says that in captivity, the "intelligent and adaptable polar bears can suffer particularly badly".

But Douglas Richardson, manager of living collections at the park, said in a statement after the new cub was born, "If we do not develop and maintain a genetically and behaviourally robust captive polar bear population, we will not have the option, should we require it, to use them to support what is likely to be a diminished and fragmented wild population in the future."

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Last year, a team of conservationists documented the plight of an emaciated polar bear in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

The global population of polar bears now stands at about 26,000. Biologists suggest that, as the ice cover continues to decrease, there will be a significant drop in the population. A 2015 report projected a reduction of more than 30 per cent in the number of polar bears by 2050.

The last polar bear cubs to be born in Britain were twins at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire in 1992.

New York Times, Reuters

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