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Don't Kiss the Bears!

 Springtime fuss at the Novosibirsk Zoo  04/25/2014, 15:10
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Don't Kiss the Bears!
Photography by Vera Salnitskaya

Spring is picking up steam at the Novosibirsk Zoo: the animals are moving from winter to summer enclosures, cubs born in the winter are going out in the sun for the first time, and some animal families have started preparing for new additions. Sib.fm's correspondents visited the zoo and met some of its inhabitants.


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For several months now, the zoo's main star has been a female polar bear born in late December: even on Monday morning, an audience started to gather near her enclosure. The tiny bear clambers towards its mum for a hug and starts purring with delight, rumbling like a small motor. The little girl hasn't been given a name yet: the zoo is collecting ideas from local residents in order to pick out some of the best and put them to popular vote.

The family of otters that lives opposite the polar bears goes for a swim, despite the morning chill, then starts play flighting in the sand.

Polar bear Kai doesn't understand what's going on: he used to be the favourite and could draw big crowds, but now people pass him by, hurrying to the little bear. That's why Kai is trying even harder to attract attention and, according to employees of the zoo, is very upset.

"He's sad now, of course. Another thing is that he'll be without Gerda for another two years until the baby grows up." says Mari Aoki, zoo employee and tour guide at the Scientific Information Department.

In two years, the little polar bear will be moved to another zoo, although it hasn't been decided to which one. In the wild, the polar bear always trys to eat its young, if it is a male, so as to avoid competition. Despite the news that the new addition is a female, the family won't be reunited just in case.

White tiger Zao willingly responds to his name, while his girlfriend Zaya is less sociable. Each animal at the zoo has a name, given by the section heads.

Workers admit that visitors often don't realise that, despite the apparent "fluffiness", harmlessness and the metal bars, the zoo's residents remain wild animals and really are dangerous to humans.

"People are to blame – for example, they annoy the brown bear, trying to kiss him, and he weighs 400kg. Maybe he doesn't want to hurt anyone, but will wave his paw as if to say: "I've had enough". But this "I've had enough" could be very substantial for a person," Mari sighs. "If even the flap of a swan's wings can break a man's arm."

Wolf Akela gently licks his girlfriend clean; she patiently waits for his caresses to end. Despite their long-standing love for each other, the grey wolves are in no rush to breed at the zoo, unlike their black counterparts, who are having cubs. Opposite the wolf cages, there's a large paddock with hoofed mammals; the wolves occasionally glance in their direction, but don't try to hunt for them.

"They're not hungry, are they. The wolf is the sole predator that only kills for food. If it is full, it won't hunt," explains the guide.

Employees say that the male Chapman's zebra named Chap, given to the zoo by a circus, has got used to his new surroundings almost immediately. Here, he behaves "like a footballer", and likes to walk around and interact with visitors.

Close by, two orangutans toss and turn discontentedly: they're sleeping in the morning at the moment, and the early visitors bother them. One of them has covered himself with a blanket. Boxes, water bottles and toys are scattered in the enclosures. According to Mari, this so-called "enriched environment" is there to help the monkeys to develop intellectually.

The tapir family is resting too. Although the tapir looks more like a plump pig, it's actually the closest relative of the horse. Looking at the tapir, it's possible to understand how the horse looked more than 10 million years ago. When the continents emerged, the tapirs barely changed, remaining in South America, while their cousins continued to evolve.

But the capybaras, who are also similar to pigs, are actually rodents, being the most important representative of this group of mammals.

"Capybaras love to swim. When they have children, they immediately start to teach them how to swim," says Marie.

Not too far away, some Mandarin ducks are swimming: couples never stray far from each other and stick together all the time. In Asia, Mandarins, not swans, are the symbol of love. For this reason, ducklings are common wedding presents in China, because male Mandarin ducks are monogamous and established couples remain faithful to each other for life.

"Swans aren't monogamous, by the way – it's just a nice story. But the male Mandarin, if anything happens, wouldn't be able to find himself another female anyway," says Mari.

The age of turtles is determined in the same way as that of trees: by growth rings. They can be seen on top of the shell. For example, this individual is more than 30 years old.

It turns out that the zoo isn't the only place you can find flamingos and pelicans in Siberia – sometimes they fly to the lakes of the Novosibirsk Region for the winter.

Sib.fm's favourite carrot lover, mountain goat Ivan, climbed up a bit higher than usual today and has no intention of associating with us. According to zoo employees, in addition to carrots, Ivan also loves having his tongue scratched.

Raccoon Tyoma doesn't want to have his picture taken: his girlfriend Toma is hiding in the house with their newborn cubs, and the man of the family is worried. Coati Chip, on the contrary, loves posing and requires contact with people.

African lion cubs were born at the zoo in the winter. Their father – a lion named Zeus – is the carrier of a rare gene from the extinct Cape lion, which manifests itself in the black mane. People even come to Novosibirsk Zoo to have a look at the black mane from its historic homeland – Algeria, where, unfortunately, none of these lions remain.

"In spring, they all start to shed their hair and take on a rather mangy appearance. Visitors will complain that torment the animals and don't feed them," laughs our guide.

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