CBC Digital Archives

Polar bear cubs debut at Toronto zoo

It prowls the globe's frozen north, a massive white bruin that fears no predator. The polar bear is both a totemic symbol of Canada and an important part of the Arctic ecosystem. But as four decades of intensive study has shown, climate change is threatening polar bear populations. CBC Digital Archives presents a dozen clips about how these bears of the great white north have gone from trophy hunter's quarry to nuisance to protected species.

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Is there anything cuter than a fuzzy, white polar bear cub? Yes: two of them. Found wandering near the James Bay coast in northern Ontario, the four-month-old female cubs were too young to survive on their own. Without the skills to hunt they would die, so they have been shipped to a new home at Toronto's Metro Zoo. As the twins frolic and draw huge crowds, a zoo staffer in this 2001 CBC-TV report says polar bears also provide a valuable educational experience.
• Polar bears are most commonly born in pairs, though singles and occasionally triplets are born as well. At birth they weigh just half a kilogram. Cubs remain with their mother for about two and a half years, and learn everything they need to know to survive from her. When she is ready to mate again, the mother bear chases her young away to fend for themselves.

  • The two cubs in this clip, who did not have names at the time, were later named Nikita (or Nakita, according to some sources) and Aurora after the zoo sponsored a name-the-bears contest that drew 12,000 entries. A six-year-old boy, Fernando Matias, spent a day with the polar bear keepers as a reward for coming up with the winning entry.

• Soon after their arrival in Toronto, the bears were loaned to a zoo in Quebec. They then went to Cochrane, Ont. in 2004 for the opening of the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat and Heritage Village. This exhibit featured two side-by-side swimming pools, separated by a thick wall of glass, where visitors could swim next to the polar bears.

• In 2009 Nikita and Aurora returned to Toronto as the zoo re-opened its polar bear exhibit after a two-year renovation. They joined a third bear, Inukshuk, who was discovered as an orphaned cub in northern Ontario in 2003.

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: May 12, 2001
Reporter: Kelly Crowe
Duration: 2:34

Last updated: March 7, 2014

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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