UK to get first glimpse of polar bear cub
Posted March 20, 2018 11:54 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — The first polar bear cub to be born in the UK in a quarter of a century will take its first steps in public Wednesday.
Visitors can check out the cub and its mom Victoria at the Royal Zoological Society's Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland, where it was born in December.
The park's outdoor enclosure has been closed to the public since the cub was born, though the young bear and its mom were photographed exploring on Tuesday.
"Having spent four months in her maternity den, Victoria quickly took the chance to go outside," said head keeper Una Richardson. "Understandably, her cub has been more cautious and is still getting used to new sights, smells and sounds.
Richardson added that the two will be only spending a short time in the outdoor enclosure.
"There is no guarantee all of our visitors will see the cub at this early age but they may be lucky."
Polar bears are a vulnerable species, with only 26,000 left globally, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Climate change and the loss of sea ice has affected their natural habitat.
While some animal welfare groups push for protecting rare species like polar bears in their natural habitat, other groups, like Polar Bears International, say rearing them in captivity allows the animals to have longer life spans.
In the wild, polar bears can live an average of 15 to 18 years, while in captivity, some have reached their mid to late 30s, according to Polar Bears International.
The Scotland park's polar bear program "closely mirrors what happens in the wild," said Douglas Richardson, the park's head of living collections.
Two years ago, he was cautious when first introducing Victoria to the cub's father Arktos.
"Male polar bears can kill female polar bears so if the introduction is done inappropriately, or too fast, or at the wrong time then you could end up with a dead female," Richardson told The Guardian when Victoria was first introduced to the zoo for breeding.
The cub is not named yet, because park staff won't find out the cub's gender until April or May, when a health check will be possible.