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The only polar bears in Africa
18 September 2002
Looks scary, but this particular zoo bear is made of fibreglass
Looks scary, but this particular zoo bear is made of fibreglass
THE only polar bears in Africa have so adapted to the climate that they don't go into their cold rooms anymore.

Geebee and Wang, the polar bears at the Johannesburg Zoo, arrived when they were six months old, 16 years ago. Geebee came from Canada and Wang from Japan; both were swapped for lions.

Their lack of interest in the cold room in their enclosure is not the only difference from polar bears in the wild. Geebee and Wang have also lost the hair under the pads of their feet, which in the wild is necessary to protect them against ice and snow. 

A white bear stretches out under the African sun
A white bear stretches out under the African sun

A change of diet may have something to do with it. They are fed chicken and rabbit, as opposed to the seal meat that they would normally eat under Arctic conditions, says Dominic Moss, a nature conservationist and keeper at the Johannesburg Zoo.

He says, "Seals have a layer of blubber that helps the bears to build up a thick layer of fat to insulate them against the extreme cold of the Arctic."

Geebee is the female and Wang is male. However, "we do not expect our bears to breed because it doesn't get cold enough to stimulate their breeding cycle. They breed in their winters, which can get as cold as -40 degrees," he says.

When the bears first arrived, according to Moss, they used the refrigerator room that was especially built for them, but after a couple of years they adapted to the heat, and they just never used the room again.

White Bear

However, when snow was poured into their enclosure during a children's snow week-end a couple of months ago, the bears looked home-sick, revelling in it.

These animals are known for their swimming skills, and the Zoo has made efforts to make them feel at home by building a swimming pond for them.

The biggest bears in the bear family, their acute sense of smell combined with swimming skills - the Zoo has built them a dam - makes them intelligent hunters. Their white coats ensure excellent camouflage against the snow and are water-repellent.

 


 

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