By Michele DeLuca
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Just the other day, the new polar bear cub at the Buffalo Zoo started sitting on her backside and grooming her chubby little belly. It was the cutest thing, according to observers.
No question, the new cub is captivating. Watching her one recent morning, as she called out for her human “mother” with a pitiful, hungry wail, it’s hard to imagine that the fluffy little baby will one day be a giant bear that could kill a human with a swipe.
But, that’s likely part of the reason area humans are so captivated by Luna, a living example of the mysteries and majesty of mother nature — and an irresistible, fluffy, silly-acting new addition to the animal collection at the Buffalo Zoo.
The little bear has a lot riding on her furry white shoulders. She represents the hope for the future in more ways than one.
“Her birth came at a really good time,” said Rachel Gottlieb, a spokeswoman for the zoo, where administrators are reaching out to the region for assistance in a campaign to build a state-of-the-art polar bear enclosure. “We’re really hoping she’s going to be a good ambassador for the campaign.
The zoo has already raised $18 million, but needs about $4 million more to begin construction. Without the enclosure they won’t likely be allowed to keep the bear. The current polar bear exhibit, built in 1890s and updated in the 1940s, is empty now and far too out-of-date to meet current standards for humane and healthy housing for bears, especially bears whose species are threatened, like the polar bear.
In addition, in-captivity births of polar bears are very rare, so her November arrival was attended to with great interest in the zoo community. Preferences would have been for the cub to stay with its mom, keepers said, but she was removed from her mother shortly after birth, when it appeared that mom was disinterested in the newborn, who weighed in at about a pound.
Kept under wraps until just recently, the cub has drawn media crews from around the country and has already made video appearances on two national morning news shows. There have been more than 400,000 “likes” on the zoo’s Facebook page since video of the baby bear was posted. Her every move is monitored by a live television feed at the zoo in the Rainforest Exhibit, and when she is finally introduced to the public, there should be a healthy uptick in zoo visitors.
But, the baby is more than a cute, furry face. She’s also important because her father, now about 22-years-old, was an orphan bear caught in the wild who, as such, provided Luna with the strongest genes possible for a healthy polar bear lineage.
Luna’s adopted mom is a zoo veternarian technician, Alice Rohauer, who brought the baby home every night until just recently and cared for all her needs. More than one observer found it fascinating to watch as the cub called out for Rohauer, with repeated raspy grunts, and then noisily enjoyed a bottle of animal formula held by her “mom,” oblivious to the delight on onlookers.
Rohauer appears cautious not to bond too much with the baby bear — as the bear seems to be bonding with her — explaining that bear moms and cubs don’t do much bonding once the cubs needs are met, adding that bears quickly become solitary creatures.
When asked if she would be safer than other keepers when Luna is a full-sized creature, Rohauer shook her head. “Hand-raised animals are the most dangerous,” she said, “because they no longer fear humans.”
The vet-tech has raised many zoo babies, from reindeer to big horn sheep, especially those near death, and while her favorites are the baby hyenas, those watching her tend to Luna were likely to see clearly that the keeper cares deeply for her charge.
“I love all the animals I raise,” she added carefully, when pressed for details on her connection to the creature, “but, I know she’s a wild animal.”
Zoo officials are currently holding a contest to officially name Luna, in the hope she will generate enough interest to finish the fundraising needed for the new home for her and her polar bear birth mother.
As the little bear stood in it’s enclosure, gnawing on the wire of her cage door and practicing her little growls, several zoo staffers nearby watched her with the same level of fascination as a couple of media visitors. The bear is undeniably fascinating and donations have already begun in her name.
“It’s nice to see so many people wanting to help,” said Gottlieb. “We’re getting calls from all over the country.”
For more information on Luna visit www.buffalozoo.org, search the Buffalo Zoo on Facebook or phone 837-3900.