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One Year After Being Moved, Denver Zoo’s Polar Bear Is A Daddy

Courtesy Denver Zoo
Denver Zoo
Polar bears Lee and Cranbeary were sent to the Columbus and Alaska zoos last fall.

One of the Denver Zoo’s former polar bears is now a “papa” bear.

Lee was moved to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium last fall in the hopes that the 20-year-old bear would finally produce offspring. On Thanksgiving Day, Lee’s mate, Aurora, gave birth to a cub.

Rebecca McCloskey, Denver Zoo’s curator of carnivores and primates, said the decision to send Lee and his former partner, Cranbeary, to separate zoos was difficult, but worth it.

“He was with Cranbeary for seven breeding seasons. No dice,” McCloskey said. “And he is over at Columbus for one year and he’s got a baby over there. So definitely, ultimately a good move for him. He seems super happy there and we’re just delighted.”

It looks like the move might have been just what Cranbeary needed as well. She was placed at the Alaska Zoo. Staff there are currently monitoring her in a “maternity den” as they believe she could be pregnant.

But this isn't the first time she’s put zoo officials on “baby watch,” McCloskey said.

“For most of the seven seasons that we had her here, she would go through the motions of ‘denning up,’” she said. “Several years there were indications from her hormones that she was pregnant, and we got all excited and we set up the camera system and got everything ready and then nothing happened. So, I hope it’s a different situation up there in Alaska.”

The decision to move the bears was based in part on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan. Lee is one of only 10 male polar bears of breeding age in the U.S., McCloskey said.

The move was met with some public outcry, including an online petition signed by more than 30,000 people hoping to keep the bears in Denver. McCloskey said she understands the feeling.

“We did not want to see them go,” she said. “But we also have to look at a little bit bigger picture. Even though it’s a little bit painful for us to say goodbye to them, they have bigger missions and for whatever reason, they’re not getting it done here.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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