New polar bear cubs, Neva and Amelia Gray, made their public debut today with a splash at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.
There were lots of smiles and giggles as the bears jumped into their pool, but thanks to the glass Neva and Amelia Gray were the only ones who got wet. The two bears arrived from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in early October and recently cleared a mandatory quarantine period while acclimating to their new home and new animal care team. Today they made their first public appearance for fans both big and small.
“It’s been fun for all of us getting to know these bears,” said Erin Cantwell, mammal collection and conservation manager for the Zoo. “Neva is very independent and curious, and Amelia Gray is spunky and a bit particular. I think people will be very excited about them because they’re so playful.”
In September, the Zoo bid farewell to 22-year-old polar bear Anoki, who returned to the Seneca Park Zoo where she was born. The moves were based on recommendations by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Polar Bear Species Survival Plan® (SSP).
Neva and Amelia Gray are half-sisters. Amelia Gray was born on November 8, 2016, to first-time mother Anana. The name Amelia means “defender,” which represents that she is a conservation protector for her species, and Gray is a nod to one of her unique features—a small gray patch of fur located along the left side of her neck. Neva and her twin brother Nuniq were born a few days later on November 14, 2016 to Aurora. Neva means “white snow” (and is also a river in Russia), and Nuniq is a derivative of Nanuq, the bears’ late father.
Amelia Gray, Neva and Nuniq were the only polar bear cubs born at a North American zoological facility in 2016.
Currently, Neva weighs nearly 400 pounds and Amelia Gray weighs more than 425 pounds, though it was said that number changes daily as the girls have great appetites! Once they’re full grown, they’ll probably weigh more than 500 pounds.
“These bears are important ambassadors for their species,” said Cantwell. “It’s a great opportunity for us to have such young bears because it’s a sign that accredited zoos are working hard together to conserve the polar bear species.”
Polar bears are native to the circumpolar north, including the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland). They are at the top of the Arctic food chain and primarily eat seals. Polar bear populations are declining due to the disappearance of sea ice, and experts estimate that only 20,000-25,000 polar bears are left in their native range. Some scientists believe if the warming trend continues, two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by the year 2050.
Like humans, polar bears communicate through body languag and vocalizations. According to Polar Bear International, these are some common behaviors of wild polar bears and how to interpret what they mean:
Head wagging from side to side: A sign that polar bears want to play. Adult bears initiate play—which is actually ritualized fighting or mock battling —by standing on their hind legs, chin lowered to their chests, with front paws hanging by their sides.
Nose-to-nose greetings: How a bear asks another bear for something, such as food. The guest bear will approach slowly, circle around a carcass, and then meekly touch the feeding bear’s nose.
Chuffing: A vocal response to stress, often heard when a mother bear is worried for her cubs’ safety.
Scolding: Mother bears scold cubs with a low growl or soft cuff.
Rushing: When a male approaches a female with cubs, she rushes toward him with her head lowered.
Hissing, snorting, lowered head: Signifies aggression.
Loud roars or growls: Communicates anger.
Deep growls: Signifies a warning, perhaps in defense of food.
If you want to help support polar bear conservation, a great way is to adopt one either Neva or Amelia Gray – which will also provide you the opportunity to enjoy breakfast with the bears and an exclusive keeper chat later this month. Full information is available on the Zoo’s website.