Two years and two days after the birth of Humphrey – who, in turn, was born nearly two years after his big brother, Hudson, so they were right on time – on November 11, 2015 Aurora and Inukshuk had another small litter of cubs. Unlike in the cases of the aforementioned brothers’ births (they were each in a litter of three), these cubs were only twins – one boy and one girl. Unfortunately, just like all of the litters Aurora had produced before this one, she seemed unable to provide adequate nutrition to her tiny babies despite showing all of the signs of being an excellent mother. So, once again, the Keepers had to step in at the last minute and rescue the very last cub from the litter, which in this case was a girl for the first time. It was exciting news, of course, but exceedingly frustrating; everyone concerned (including Aurora herself) had worked exceptionally hard to try to allow her to have a litter that she could raise on her own. The fates just don’t seem to wish it so, and now that Inukshuk and Aurora are represented in the gene pool by offspring of each sex, it’s very likely she won’t be bred any more in the future.
My memory was that we didn’t hear about the birth for quite a while after it happened – and Aurora’s pregnancy had never been confirmed outside of the Tundra Keepers’ circle – but in looking back at our regularly issued information sheets I can see that there was even a Press Release before a week had passed, so I clearly am remembering it wrong. In any event, it was quite an exciting surprise to hear that there was finally going to be a little girl to fawn over in the polar bear nursery. The downside, of course, was that with so many other high-profile births having already taken place – and a couple more to come that would have a huge impact on me (Nandu and the lynx sisters) – I wouldn’t be able to spend nearly as much time with this little girl as I had with her brother, Humphrey. Still, I sure didn’t ignore her by any means and even turned up for all four of the preview opportunities to see her before she went on public display in February of 2016. And at the very first of these viewings we were incredibly fortunate to be watching her in person as she encountered her very first snow ever.
Here’s a little clip of that experience.
(I have a couple of awesome little videos of me playing with her several months later; I posted them in the July story about Rey, the Zebra baby if you missed them or just want to check them out all over again!)
Now, let’s see. I have this nagging feeling I’m forgetting to mention something important…. oh! That’s right! Her name. Well, because she was born on November 11th, which is Remembrance Day here in Canada, the vets and techs in the Health Centre gave her a nickname they thought appropriate for the date. And, unlike with the nicknames that had been given to her older brothers, the Zoo decided that this time there would be no naming contest and just went ahead and made her name official. And that is how she came to be called…
Juno. After the name of the beach the Canadians landed on on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Well, technically Private Juno because the Army “adopted” her into their ranks, not as a mascot but as an honourary “soldier”, with the promise that she would receive a one-spot bump in her rank every year on her birthday. Personally, I can’t wait for her to become a General so we can start sending her on diplomatic missions of peace, because I’ll bet she’d be more effective than just about anyone we could possibly send in her place. There was some concern (ok, maybe it’s only my concern, but still) that down the road people will hear her name and think she was born on June 6. Also, the name “Poppy” got a bit of traction before they settled on “Juno.” But you know what? It so suits her – especially when we used to hear her keepers called her “June-Bug!”
The photo you see here was taken on Day Two of Juno’s “Sneak Preview” for Staff and Volunteers, and it was taken by PR for the Zoo’s FB page and website. The powers-that-be decreed that none of the rest of us who showed up to see her on those first two days of previews would be allowed to take any photos ourselves. Trouble is, they didn’t decide this until after the first showing and didn’t tell anyone until midway through the second showing. So I have roughly a zillion (it’s a technical photography term) pictures of her on the morning and afternoon of February 9, 2016, but didn’t even bring my camera into the room the next day. On the one hand, that was certainly disappointing. But on the other hand, it allowed me the time to interact with this little darling face-to-face with no giant black object in the way. I took full advantage of this opportunity, let me tell you. And I know the precise moment this picture was snapped….because it was shot over my left shoulder as Juno stared into my eyes and brought her paw up toward me. Yes, yours truly was the focus of her attention at the moment of this photo. I felt the camera’s presence as I leaned in to this little face, I heard the shutter click, and then the gal taking the shot said, “Thanks!” as she backed away. I knew it was going to be a great one. And later that afternoon, a few of us stragglers were allowed to stick around a few extra minutes and watch Juno put herself to bed, which gave me another chance to calmly interact with her until she fell asleep – just as I had done once upon a time with her brother, Humphrey, when he was roughly the same age.
The photo I used for the calendar was taken very early in Juno’s “public life”, as it turned out. Zoo attendees got their first glimpse of her on the 27th of February; my shot is from the 29th (Sadie Hawkins Day!), which was a Monday. It’s the only way I was able to get near her, really. For one thing, I worked at the exhibit on her first day (which was jammed) and therefore couldn’t have taken any photos in any event. But even though it was among the first I ever took of her, I don’t think I snapped a better one in all the months she spent after that in Toronto. My good friend, Hilary, was so moved by it that she asked for permission to use it as a “model” for her “Painting with Acrylic” class. Of course I said absolutely not but she did it anyhow…. ok, seriously, I was honoured by the request and, in return, Hilary passed along photos she took of everyone in the class painting their own renditions of how they saw my original print. One of the artists even sent me her original so that I might have it in my collection, which was particularly moving. But when I saw Hilary’s piece….well, it blew all the other away (including the one the instructor did, which I’ve also seen). I think this painting is stunning, but especially so when you consider the group Hilary was in were supposedly “beginners”! The best praise came when my partner, Sarah, was able to see it for herself this past summer. Sarah is not especially a fan of paintings of animals to begin with, and she is very particular in what she likes – especially in the rendering of feet and hands. Well, paws, I guess. But Sarah loved it as well, which is a tremendously great honour, in my experience. Thank you, Hilary, for allowing me to show this off!
Hudson and Humphrey had trundled off to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg when they were around 15 months old, to play with other kids their own age and to learn how to be polar bears. But after Juno was born, we eventually learned that, through a convoluted set of circumstances, Humphrey and Hudson would both be coming back to Toronto at some point in 2016, which was completely unexpected. Many of us hoped we could travel to see Humphrey in Winnipeg one day (I had already gone to visit Hudson) and then Juno after she likely left, but I don’t think anyone dreamed of seeing all three cubs together in the Toronto Zoo. But on October 11, 2016 (Hudson’s birthday, which meant he kind of got ripped off last year) the lads took off for Toronto, arriving here the next day. With the required 30-day quarantine it seemed they might even be on display in time for Juno’s first birthday, but their “re-debuts” were held off for a few days after November 11th. In any event, Juno’s birthday was a bit of a fiasco: the Zoo “celebrated” it on the 9th, with a visit from the Army, because….well, I’m still not really sure why. I know it didn’t sit all that well with the many members who missed it, but that’s how it goes. As for me, well… I was booked for the Tundra Table for November 11th and had loaded up on balloons and hats and decorations to make our own party for Juno, only to have to miss the shift at the last minute because that ended up being the day my Dad passed away. A small party went on without me and I apologized to Juno for missing her birthday when I saw her early the next week.
The boys began to show up on display that following week, but it would be several months before they would share an enclosure as they really didn’t know each other all that well and, even though Humphrey was a decent size for a three-year-old bear, Hudson was huge – even bigger than his father, Inukshuk, who had departed for Cochrane earlier in the Fall to make room for the return of his sons. Even with him gone, though, it became quite a logistic puzzle as to how to give five polar bears access to outside air and water when only two of them – Aurora and Nikita – could be put together. At first we tended to see the older girls in one of the main areas and one of the brothers in the other, with Juno predominantly in the smaller nursery area. But this wasn’t great for her, either, as she needed access to the bigger pool and domain to continue to mature and learn how to swim and stretch her growing legs. Eventually, Aurora and Nikita began to spend most of their time in the outside area behind the bear house, which suited them fine and allowed visitors to see the three youngsters on full display.
And then, suddenly, early in the New Year, it hit me. I was standing at the main viewing area, in front of the big pool at the south end of the exhibit, and the magnitude of what I was seeing struck me hard. From the position I was in I was able to see the bear in the front, the bear on the back grass, and the bear in the nursery. I was able to see all three cubs – Hudson, Humphrey, and Juno – at the same time without even really moving my head. That was absolutely overwhelming.
This was the very last photo I took of Juno at the Toronto Zoo. I truly hope to see her in Winnipeg, so I don’t expect it will be the last one ever. But it certainly is telling: those sticks that are on my side of the fence were ones she had pushed there herself in an obvious attempt to get someone to jump in there and play with her. She was wrestling with that bamboo and kind of gurgling at it, having a whale of a time. She was leaving the next day, but if she sensed the imminent adventure she sure didn’t show any signs. But I knew, of course, and it took all of my strength to leave her that day. As it was, it was already past closing time and I really didn’t have much of a choice; however, that also meant I had her to myself that Monday afternoon, and that was a rare treat indeed.
So that’s the last photo I took of her, but it’s not the last one I’ll remember. This was shot a few minutes earlier, from inside the Tundra Station, and this ridiculous supine pose is how I will remember this little ball of fur and claws the best.
So that’s it for this month. One more to go! It’s one of the two (the other one was May) where I am not sure of the birth month of the babies, but I’ve had it a while and honestly just couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. See you then!
I’ll leave you with this little collage of Juno. Enjoy!