Tiny polar bear cub emerges from Scots den for first time
The adorable cub was the first born in the UK for 25 years at the Highland Wildlife Park.
The first polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years has finally emerged from its den at the Highland Wildlife Park.
The cub was born at the zoo near Kingussie during the week before Christmas but had not been seen until now.
Its emergence was recorded by cameras installed outside the den for an upcoming documentary about the park's polar bear breeding programme.
Head carnivore keeper Una Richardson discovered the cub while checking on its mother, Victoria.
"Victoria had started to come outside by herself for short periods to eat, drink and roll around in the snow, so we knew her cub would soon follow her but we couldn't be sure when," she said.
"I was visiting Victoria on Sunday morning to check she had fresh water and to continue slowly reintroducing food to her diet after four months living solely off the fat reserves she built up before she entered her den.
"Suddenly I saw a small, fluffy bundle next to her and had to pinch myself to check I wasn't seeing things.
"It was a very special experience and one I'll never forget. We also have motion-sensitive cameras safely positioned near Victoria's den and we were delighted to see we had captured her cub's first few steps outside."
The park's polar bear enclosure is closed to the public for now and the cub - which has not been named - will remain out of sight until later this month.
Ms Richardson said its birth shows the park's breeding programme is a success.
"We are thrilled with the birth and rearing of a polar bear cub for the first time in the UK for a quarter of a century," she added.
"The birth goes a long way in confirming that our husbandry regime works, with polar bears managed in markedly different ways to many other zoos.
"This includes having very large, natural enclosures and keeping the sexes in separate parts of the park, which more closely mirrors what happens in the wild."
'Some may wonder whether there is any point in breeding polar bears in zoos and the question deserves a serious answer.'Head carnivore keeper Una Richardson
The Highland Wildlife Park's polar bears could be used to boost the wild population if the species was threatened with extinction in the future.
"Some may wonder whether there is any point in breeding polar bears in zoos and the question deserves a serious answer," Ms Richardson said.
"The change in the Arctic climate - the shortening of the ice season, coupled with more direct human pressures - is having a detrimental effect on the species that is likely to result in many of the wild sub-populations disappearing.
"If we do not develop and maintain a genetically and behaviourally robust captive polar bear population we will not have the option to use them to support what is likely to be a diminished and fragmented wild population in the future."
Britain's Polar Bear Cub, an STV Productions documentary, will air on Channel 4 on March 18.