Wow. What an experience today has been. I'm currently sat at the Highland Wildlife Park (part of RZSS) whilst I write this post. Look at my blog-writing view!
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by Lizzie Seymour to have a meeting at Edinburgh Zoo. During the meeting, Lizzie suggested that I should visit their other park in the highlands, too. This was a great idea because the Highland Wildlife Park has...... POLAR BEARS! At the park, they have three adult bears (two male, one female) and one male cub. The Highland Wildlife Park is one of only two zoos that houses polar bears in the UK.
I drove 2 and a half hours this morning to get here, and boy was it worth it. I have been given the absolute VIP experience! I came up here only expecting a quick 5/10 minute chat with a member of staff, but they have gone above and beyond to help with my project and my research.
I met first with Lorraine Rose, who is a ranger here at the park. I spoke to her briefly about my project, and she asked me to meet her at 12:00 outside the snow monkey enclosure. I arrived at 12:00, and she was carrying a bucket of fruit. She then said she needed to grab something from a cupboard, and pulled out a park staff vest.
"I have spoken to the park and they have said that I can take you to feed the polar bears".
FEED THE POLAR BEARS!?
I put on my park staff vest, and off we went in one of the zoo vans towards one of two polar bear enclosures.
It felt amazing to be able to go behind the scenes again; it was like being back at my job at Banham Zoo. I wondered towards the enclosure carrying the bucket, with Lorraine giving me some information as we approached.
Then, there they were; a mother, Victoria, and her cub, Brodie. Lorraine explained that the staff are being particularly conscious at the moment about how much food Victoria is getting, and so she has been working out ways to make sure Brodie doesn't steal her food. Lorraine worked out that Brodie plays fetch! She throws his Apples one at a time into the water, and whilst he fetches and eats it, she throws Victoria her food. This keeps Brodie distracted and ensures that Victoria is getting a decent diet. Then, it was my turn! I got to throw in a load of food for Brodie, whilst Lorraine continued to throw food for Victoria.
I had only even seen polar bears once before, at Central Park zoo in 2014. But today, I was now closer than most people will ever get. I want to take this opportunity to thank Lorraine for organising that experience for me and allowing me special access to get that close to the bears. It's something that I'll never forget.
Lorraine was incredibly knowledgable about the polar bears in the park, giving me a huge number of facts about their particular bears and showing me the behind the scenes of their enclosures.
I heard an array of personal, fun stories about all of the bears and what they get up to. She was also extremely informative about the other animals in the zoo, too, and gave me a personal tour of a lot of the park. Lorraine gave me so much information, but here's a short summary of the background of each bear at the zoo:
Born in The Netherlands in 2008
Came to Highland Wildlife Park in 2010
Born in Austria in 2007
Came to Highland Wildlife Park in 2012
Father to Brodie and previous cubs
Born in Germany in 1996
Came to Highland Wildlife Park in 2015
Mother to Brodie and previous cubs
Born in December, 2021 at Highland Wildlife Park
I then met with the park's Discovery & Learning Programme Manager, Jess Wise, where we discussed further about the polar bears on site and details of my project. We began discussing some ideas of areas where technology could be used to help polar bears, which I will summarise in a future blog post.
Jess also informed me that no one has ever been able to obtain footage of the inside of a polar bear den in the wild. When the females are giving birth and first raising their cubs. they build dens, where they reside during birth and until the cub is around 3 or 4 months old. Footage of the inside of a den in the wild could be extremely useful in understanding the requirements of a female polar bear during pregnancy and whilst raising their cubs, and is something that currently doesn't exist. In 2011, the BBC showed footage of newborn cubs in, what they supposedly made out to be, a den in the wild. They came under fire for "misleading viewers" with the show Frozen Planet, when it came to light that the footage was actually from a zoo.
It was great to be able to see the polar bears today, gain some knowledge on the individual bears at the park and put some faces to these incredible creatures that I have been researching into.
So, today was an huge success, and I don't really want to drive home... I'm still sat in the same place that I was in at the start of this post, and I don't fancy a 2 and a half hour drive back to Glasgow (understandably?). I think I'll hang about here a little bit longer.
Thanks again to both Lorraine and Jess for giving me an amazing experience and going above and beyond to support me within this project!
Also... I fed polar bears!