Early in my time as a Volunteer at the Toronto Zoo (probably 2014 or so) I signed up to help out with a “Scent Study” with the polar bears. A grad student from Guelph, whose name I have sadly long forgotten, was doing some research for her thesis…
Considering how infrequently I get down to see the grizzly bears – relative to all the rest of the animals in the Zoo – they are pretty well-represented among my favourite photos and “Calendar Animals.” When you toss in the polar and panda bears, I am fairly certain that I have more “calendar-worthy” shots of animals in the Ursidae family than any other.
Aurora and Nikita first arrived at the Toronto Zoo in the early spring of 2001. They were found as orphans, wandering around together in Polar Bear Provincial Park near James Bay, in Northern Ontario. It is estimated that they were born the previous December and they had recently emerged from their den with their mother to forage, only to have her shot by a hunter.
It then became a matter of waiting as long as I could to get a shot with the most snow possible on Da Mao before he inevitably yawned or stretched or shifted or moved in any way that would disturb this perfect “Still Life with Panda.”
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…
I walked around to the viewing window at the north side of the enclosure and watched this big fuzzy goofball trot towards me, then walk away more slowly, then turn and trot a bit faster back toward the window again. I got the feeling this was a show he was putting on exclusively for me, because I was the only one there and he seemed to lock eyes with me each time he began to canter. It was quite an experience!
I love bears. I have for as long as I can remember – at least as far back as Balloo in The Jungle Book, and the magnificent title character in the old Gentle Ben television series in the ’60s.