First polar bear cub born in UK for 25 years

Simon Johnson

The first polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years is being monitored at a Scottish wildlife park.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said its resident female polar bear Victoria has given birth at the Highland Wildlife Park.

The charity described the birth as an "outstanding achievement" but stressed that the first three months can be perilous for polar bear cubs, both in the wild and in captivity.

Staff at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park, at Kincraig near Kingussie, confirmed the birth after hearing "high-pitched sounds" from Victoria's maternity den.

It is the first time a polar bear cub has been born in the UK for a quarter of a century, the organisation said.

However, the RZSS said photographs and videos of the new cub were not available as filming is not possible near the polar bear enclosure for animal welfare reasons

Una Richardson, the park's head keeper responsible for carnivores, said: "We first heard promising noises in the week before Christmas and these have now continued into the new year.

File photo issued by the Highland Wildlife Park of polar bear Victoria, who has given birth to the first polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years at the Scottish wildlife park Credit: PA

"Because we don't have sight inside her cubbing box we can't be sure if Victoria has had more than one cub but we can confirm the birth.

"While we are absolutely thrilled, we are not celebrating prematurely as polar bear cubs have a high mortality rate in the first weeks of life due to their undeveloped immune system and the mother's exaggerated need for privacy, with any disturbance risking the cub being killed or abandoned.

"We will continue to monitor Victoria and very much hope for the best possible news when she emerges around March.

"Until then, Victoria's enclosure will be closed to the public and keeper activity will be at a minimum to give her offspring every chance of survival."

New-born polar bear cubs are blind, around 12in (30cm) long and weigh little more than a guinea pig, the charity said.

They only open their eyes when they are a month old and are entirely dependent on their mother, feeding on fat-rich milk to grow quickly, weighing between 22lb (10kg) and 26.5lb (12kg) by the time they leave their den.

The polar bear breeding season began in March last year, during which Victoria mated with Arktos, one of the park's two males.

Arktos and Walker, the other male bear, remain on view to visitors to the attraction.

Barbara Smith, RZSS chief executive, said: "The birth of the first polar bear cub in the UK for a quarter of a century is an outstanding achievement which will arouse interest around the world.

"It is testament to the commitment and professionalism of our team and hugely exciting.

"At RZSS we believe we have a duty to help protect this magnificent species, with the reduction in sea ice, the polar bear's primary seal hunting platform, predicted to significantly reduce numbers over the next 40 years.

"Our polar bears are part of the European Endangered Species Programme and we hope Victoria's offspring will survive to reinforce the captive population, which may be needed in the future to augment and help restore a markedly reduced and fragmented wild population."

The last polar bear cubs born in the UK were twins at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire in December 1992.

Victoria, born in Germany in 1996, previously gave birth at Aalborg Zoo in Denmark in 2008.

She arrived at RZSS Highland Wildlife Park in March 2015.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes