Inukshuk, one of two bears at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, is heading to the Toronto Zoo to mate.
Credits: HANDOUT PHOTO — COCHRANE POLAR BEAR HABITAT
Karen Cumming, manager of the habitat, said testosterone levels in male polar bears spike at the end of January and February. They reach three times their normal levels.
"Inukshuk is normally a very happy, content polar bear.
He's a bit of a goofball. You give him a couple of toys and he'll entertain himself," she said. "Lately, he has started to look like he has other things on his mind."
Habitat staff are sure Inukshuk's testosterone levels have risen for mating season.
"Our intention is to send him to Toronto to breed, and then have him come back, hopefully, by the beginning of March," Cummings said. "But we think it is a good idea to send him south to sew his wild oats."
Breeding polar bears, let alone captive bears, is an extremely tricky business. Females are what are known as "induced ovulators," meaning the act of mating triggers the release an egg. That's why, when the timing is right, male and female bears generally remain together for a few weeks.
Adding to the complications is the fact that females, even if fertilization is successful, can somehow delay implantation of the embryo for up to nine months until they have packed on enough pounds to care for cubs successfully.
Although many zoos are working on it, there still is no surefire test to tell if females are pregnant. Behaviour is the only tool biologists and zookeepers have to go by.
On top of it all, according to Cummings, mortality rates with cubs are still high, whether in the wild or in captivity.
Inukshuk, however, has a proven track record when it comes to breeding.
"Ganuk, Hudson and Taiga (cubs borne in captivity) are proof that Inukshuk, in polar bear terms, is quite the stud muffin," said Cummings.
Inukshuk is one of two polar bears at the habitat, the other being his son, Ganuk.
"We'll be very, very sad to see him go, because we already consider Inukshuk a part of our family. But it's nice to think that by Valentine's Day, he might have created new baby bears," said Cummings.
"Although we're sure Ganuk won't mind, we're still telling him not to worry, Daddy will be home soon."