Polar bear gives birth in Munich zoo, with photos and video

Fabulous photos of 3 week old twin polar bear cubs (born December 9, 2013), have been released by the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany. There’s video of the births as well. The newborn cubs are so tiny  — it’s hard to imagine them being born in the dead of winter in a snow den!

PB newborn with mother Munich Zoo Dec 2013

All but one of the photos shown here, including the one above, are of the newborns at 3 weeks of age. The one below is a screen cap taken from the video of the birth, and is the only one that shows the cubs just hours old. They seem to have grown a bit in 3 weeks.

PB newborns birth_11PolarBearTwins2_Zoo screen cap

From this January 1, 2014 account (Hellabrunn Zoo Welcomes Polar Bear Twins”):

“On December 9, a Polar Bear named Giovanna gave birth to two cubs at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. Both births were seen on cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births, Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view. Secondly, this is the first time that a Polar Bear birth has been filmed in color worldwide!

The cubs were born at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively, to parents Giovanna (7) and Yogi (14). The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a Polar Bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”

PB newborns 20 days old_Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich Dec 2013

The short Youtube video of the births (about 30 seconds), provided by the zoo, is below. [Youtube link here]

The birthing process was described by the zoo as follows (from the Zooborns article)

“08:37: Giovanna walks down the corridor between the two dens. She bites one of her front paws to counteract the pain of a contraction. Then she moves out of camera view but then takes several steps back into frame.
08:39: View of Giovanna’s back. A polar bear cub slides onto the floor in a very speedy birth. It is about 8 inches (20 cm) long, hairless, smeared in blood, blind and deaf.

09:40: Giovanna pushes her back legs forcefully against the wall and her body shakes as she has a contraction.
09:43: A thin arm, a small head and then another arm come into view. Giovanna gives birth to a second baby. At this point she is so busy with her first born that she doesn’t attend to the second baby immediately. The little one is left to fend for itself for the next few minutes. It wriggles and turns round and is very active.
10:05: Giovanna notices something going on behind her. She turns her head and notices the second baby. She turns round and picks it up carefully in her mouth. Then she leans against the wall and lays it on her leg next to its older sibling.

22:40: The babies now resemble miniature Polar Bears. Giovanna has painstakingly licked them clean over the last few hours so that they are now bright white and dry. They are snuggling into mum’s warm coat and tumbling around on her chest. They’re already drinking her milk.”

PB newborn with mother Munich Zoo Dec 2013_1

The German newspaper “The Local” had a report just after the births (December 11, 2013), “Delight as Munich zoo polar bear has twins.” They said:

“The seven-year-old gave birth to both cubs within an hour at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo.

The first of the mousey grey twins weighed barely 400g, according to the Münchner Merkur newspaper. Giovanna carefully picked up the blind cub and carried it in her mouth to the neighbouring enclosure.

Less than an hour later she gave birth for the second time. Both births were quick and free of complications.

The footage of Giovanna was taken by a surveillance camera in the “Mother and Child House” at Hellabrunn Zoo. Since 2011 Giovanna has been taken to the birthing house on three other occasions but these turned out to be false alarms.

The animal park is now bracing itself for a rush of visitors – similar to the spike in customer numbers that Berlin Zoo experienced when Knut the polar bear was born at the end of 2006. [my bold]

A “Germany.info” article (December 11), also offered this info:

“The Hellabrunn Zoo is keeping the cubs in the indoor enclosure until March of 2014, when they will be allowed outside for the first time.” [my bold]

There’s no doubt that these are spectacular photos, showcasing a phenomenon you would never see in the wild, and I’m glad to have seen them. But there is also no doubt that the release of the photos and video will increase the public’s interest in paying money to see the bears in person — and as a consequence, increase revenues for the zoo.

As I’ve noted before, polar bears are now a huge draw for zoos, who are now spared the protests from environmentalists and animal rights organizations [and who have the support of Polar Bears International] – in contrast to just a few decades ago, when zoos were pressured to get rid of polar bear exhibits.

I’m of two minds: I think zoos serve an important educational role (at a price that unfortunately not all can afford), but at the same time, I’m disturbed by the way some of these organizations are using the premature “threatened” status of polar bears to justify keeping animals they wouldn’t have dreamed of keeping 20 years ago because it would have raised the ire of animal rights proponents and environmentalists.

Related posts:
December is polar bear nativity month (December 12, 2012)

Zoos use myth of disappearing polar bears to breed them in captivity (December 16, 2013)

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