Young polar bear, born in captivity, joins two other bears at Como Zoo

Kulu the bear
The Como Zoo and Conservatory has brought in a new polar bear, Kulu, from the Columbus Zoo. He is here temporarily to enable his mother to breed and have another cub in Ohio.
Courtesy of Como Zoo

Even polar bears must leave home to grow up. One of them recently arrived in St. Paul to do just that. 

Kulu is a 725-pound, 2-year-old polar bear born in the Columbus Zoo in 2019. The bears there are ready for more cubs, zoo officials said. Kulu has been moved to the Como Zoo, where he’ll be the third polar bear, joining Nan and Neil, both more than 25 years old.

“You kind of have to kick the cubs to the curb at some time, when it comes to needing to breed again,” says Como’s senior zookeeper, Allison Jungheim. 

Kulu — his name is an Inuit term of endearment — was the fifth cub born to the bears in Ohio and the only polar bear born in a North American zoo in 2019.

The young bear’s relocation, part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums species survival plan, may be temporary.

Polar bears face increasing threats to their native habitat as the Arctic warms.

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Researchers struggle to better track and understand wild bears, in part because of bear anatomy: adult male bears have huge necks — the same size as their skulls — so they can’t wear tracking collars. Devices big enough to be safe slip off over their heads.

Scientists at 3M have been working to develop some way to attach thumb-sized GPS trackers to bear fur. Kulu already has a prototype between his shoulder blades, where he can’t reach and scratch it off. The tracker has steel brushes, not unlike hair rollers, to cling to his fur.

A prototype GPS tracker for polar bears.
3M scientists are working on a better way to track polar bears — including gluing GPS trackers to their fur.
Courtesy Photo from 3M

Jungheim says zoo staff will be keeping an eye on him and the tracker.

“We're trying to refine our techniques for application, with the hope it stays on well. The hope is that it would stay on for 270 days, because that's the amount of time that the battery would last in the GPS trackers that they would use on the wild bears,” Jungheim said.

Kulu the bear
Kulu has been fitted with an experimental polar bear tracker, developed at 3M corporate headquarters in Maplewood, where scientists have been trying to come up with an alternative to collars.
Courtesy of Como Zoo

For now, Kulu is in quarantine, away from Nan and Neil. Although Kulu is separated initially, he can hear, see and smell his neighbors.