Highlands & Islands

Female polar bear brought in for Scottish cubs attempt

Polar bear Victoria Image copyright RZSS handout
Image caption Victoria has arrived in Scotland from a zoo in Denmark

A female polar bear has arrived at a Scottish zoo for an attempt to raise the first polar bear in the UK for more than 20 years.

Victoria from Aalborg Zoo in Denmark has her own enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.

Two male bears - Walker and Arktos - already share an enclosure at the park.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland hopes Victoria will eventually mate with the eldest male, Arktos, or a bear brought in from another zoo.

Polar bear cubs were last born in the UK in 1992.

Victoria, who was born in 1996 at Rostock Zoo in Germany, is currently the only female polar bear in the UK. She previously raised cubs in 2008.

Image copyright Paul Campbell
Image caption The park is already home to male bears Walker, left, and Arktos

Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the Highland Wildlife Park, said: "We are delighted to welcome a female polar bear to the Highlands. Victoria will need to settle in, but visitors should be able to meet our new arrival in a couple of weeks.

"Her enclosure is completely separate to Walker and Arktos', as male and female polar bears live separately in the wild.

"During the polar bear breeding season, which generally falls between March and May, we will gradually introduce her to Arktos and the two will stay together until the two hopefully mate, when the male will be returned to the bachelor enclosure."

However, RZSS said a male from another site could be brought in "if the breeding programme recommends it".

Image copyright AP
Image caption If cubs are born at the park they will be the first in the UK since 1992

Troops from the British Army's 71 Engineer Regiment and a visiting contingent from the South Dakota National Guard built Victoria's enclosure last year.

Mr Richardson said: "A great deal of thought and planning has gone into developing Victoria's enclosure.

"It is a large area featuring a large pond and plenty of natural ground for her to explore. In addition to the main enclosure, there is an adjacent smaller holding enclosure with its own pool that will initially house the male until the signs are right for the introduction.

"This extra enclosure allows us to also use a visiting male from another zoo, should the breeding programme recommend it, and we are not aware of any other polar bear breeding facility that has this degree of flexibility."

Image caption Walker was caught up in a controversy over the BBC's Frozen Planet documentary series

Walker and Arktos have shared an enclosure for three years.

Arktos, who is a year older than Walker, arrived at the park from a zoo in Hannover, Germany.

Centre of controversy

Walker has been at the site since November 2010, after being introduced from a Dutch zoo. He was one of two cubs at the centre of a controversy over the BBC's Frozen Planet in 2011.

An episode of the documentary series featured the cubs in a den with their mother, with many people assuming they were born and filmed in the Arctic.

But the cubs were actually in the zoo in Holland, as revealed in behind-the-scenes footage on the show's website.

The BBC defended the footage and denied misleading viewers.

For a time Walker shared the enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park with Mercedes, a female bear who arrived at the park from Edinburgh Zoo.

The 30-year-old bear died in April 2011. She had been suffering severe arthritis which was treated with painkillers.

RZSS considered pairing up Walker with a mate in 2011 but that plan was put on ice following suspicions that she was already pregnant.

The bear was named after a range of children's nappies as was his mother, Huggies.

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