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Polar bears bond in Highland Wildlife Park breeding scheme

Arktos and Victoria have moved into a special enclosure at the Kingussie wildlife centre.

A pair of polar bears in a breeding programme at the Highland Wildlife Park have bonded, keepers say.

Arktos and Victoria moved into a special enclosure at Kingussie last week and met for the first time on Saturday.

The bears have mated a number of times and will live together for the next few weeks.

Vickie Larkin, head carnivore keeper at the Wildlife Park, said: “It’s fantastic news and their introduction couldn’t have gone any better.

“Both polar bears have really warmed to each other and all the signs are really positive. From the first moment they met, Arktos has been really gentle with Victoria and their bond has been immediate.

“Polar bear breeding is inherently complex as the species are induced ovulators, meaning that the female only releases an egg after initial mating occurs. They also practice delayed implantation, where the egg doesn’t implant into the uterine wall until some months later.

“If successful, Victoria will not fall pregnant until August to September time. Other key stages are her entering the birthing den in October to November and potentially giving birth in December to January. Any cubs would then not come out of the birthing den until March to April 2017.”

Before they moved in together, they Arktos and Victoria were seen sleeping next to each other by the fence which divided their separate enclosures and trying to touch through the barrier.

Bonding: Polar bears at Highland Wildlife Park.
Bonding: Polar bears at Highland Wildlife Park. Highland Wildlife Park
Breeding: Arktos and Victoria spending time together.
Breeding: Arktos and Victoria spending time together. Highland Wildlife Park

Since Saturday, the bears have slept side by side, followed each other around and rested their heads on each other, behaviour seen in wild polar bears during the mating process.

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland chief executive Chris West added: “Climate change is predicted to cause further sea-ice losses and horrifying statistics estimate that the global population of polar bears could decline by over 30% in just three generations.

“Any cubs born to Victoria will help to populate a healthy ex-situ ‘ark’ of polar bears to give conservationists as many future options as possible.

“In an ideal world, conservation would happen primarily in the wild but, when issues exist in the wild, the next best thing is a combined in-situ and ex-situ approach that has the goal of one day restoring or augmenting wild populations.”

Arktos: Polar bear bathing at the Highland Wildlife Park.
Arktos: Polar bear bathing at the Highland Wildlife Park. Highland Wildlife Park

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