Two orphaned polar bear cubs found near Churchill are now at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, despite the objections of the northern Manitoba town's mayor.
The Assiniboine Park Conservancy confirmed Wednesday that two cubs — one male, one female — have been transported to the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, the Winnipeg zoo's hub for polar bear research and home to its conservation and research department.
The pair are not siblings, and were identified by Manitoba Sustainable Development as candidates for the centre while in "polar bear jail" in Churchill.
However, Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said earlier this week too many bears are being taken from the area.
"What we've been going through over the last number of years with orphan cubs directly going to the zoo is not an option. We've heard that loud and clear from community members," Spence said.
Spence said he spoke directly with Manitoba Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires earlier this week and asked for some time to think about options for the bears, which included releasing them back into the wild with tracking collars.
However, they were sent to Winnipeg Tuesday night.
Bears doing well
The bears are in the conservation centre and are doing well, said Dr. Stephen Petersen, head of conservation and research for the conservancy.
"Now that they're here they're just kind of getting used to the new environment and the new way of life they'll be going through as they grow up here."
The bears, estimated to be about 11 months old, likely would not have survived had they not been brought to the centre, Petersen said.
Polar bear cubs have a tough time of it even with their mothers, he said, so orphans younger than about two years generally don't make it unless they have an excellent habitat.
"They would otherwise die on their own," Petersen said, while at the zoo, "they can be part of a bigger plan to help polar bears in the wild. That's why they're brought down."
Petersen said they have seen more orphaned bears than expected at this point in the lifespan of the zoo's Journey to Churchill exhibit and the research centre.
"How do they become orphans? That's a really rich area to try and understand better in order to try and mitigate bears coming into this situation," said Petersen. "We don't really understand how that happens."
The cubs are currently under a 30-day quarantine to make sure they are not carrying parasites, Petersen said, and the two are not being housed together. Once the quarantine has passed, they will be introduced to the public.
The Journey to Churchill exhibit and the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre are now home to 11 bears, including the two new cubs, along with Storm, Aurora, Kaska, Blizzard, Star, Nanuq, Siku, York and Juno.
Siblings Hudson and Humphrey were transferred to the Toronto Zoo, while another bear, Eli, died from undetermined trauma earlier this year.