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Arts & Culture

UB student observes Buffalo's polar bear cubs

WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley

The Buffalo Zoo provides our local community with is an educational opportunity to learn about wild animals and reptiles, their habitats and how they live. But for one University at Buffalo student -- she's been given a special chance to monitor the polar bears behavior up close.

"Watching the two of them together -- I guess -- from beginning to currently has been the greatest thing, I think," said UB

student Jacquelyn Heatwole.  She started her bear watch at the end of last April -- first keeping track of Luna -- a female cub - born at the Zoo and then was joined by Kali --an orphaned male cub born in the wild in and rescued in Alaska. 

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Charlotte Lindqvist, assistant professor of Biological Sciences with UB student Jacquelyn Heatwole


Heatwole was selected by her professor to conduct her behavior study.  Charlotte Lindqvist is an assistant professor of Biological Sciences at UB.  Lindqvist has been conducting research on polar bears the last few years and encouraged her student to apply for the zoo research. At this point it is more like a quantitative study -- I guess -- to just simply get an idea of some of these differences," said Lindqvist. 

Lindqvist noted there is not a great deal of published material on papers on behavior development of cubs in captivity.                                                                                                      

"But not much has been published. So we did a literature search to begin with and we didn't really find much.  And this is such a unique situation. So scientifically -- of course -- we don't have any controls. We only have two bears, and there are so many variables,  right its female, it's a male, one is captive born one is wild born, and we can see now developmentally they grew more and more apart. We can see certain size, you can see so many other things behaviorally," said Lindqvist.

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Luna & Kali

Male polar bears weight can reach between 775-to-1,200 pounds, females between 330 to 650-pounds. The cubs were recently moved into the tiger exhibit area after outgrowing a smaller space.  Improvements were made to the tiger area -- including a deeper pool for polar bear swims. Heatwole spent the entire summer -- Monday through Friday -- observing the cubs -- watching the behavior of the play and grow. She has notice the cubs behavior has been alter slightly by the location change.  

Credit WBFO News photo by EIleen Buckley
Kali & Luna at the Buffalo Zoo

"They don't really have as much access.  Sometimes Luna comes up to the window.  But before when they were in the older exhibit -- it was pretty close,” said Heatwole. "The coolest thing I have seen is the transformation -- I guess -- from when Kali first arrived and watching their bond and how their relationship has grown, how close they are with one another, and who he has really become comfortable with being in a zoo." But the Zoo is preparing for the Artic Edge - which will provide a large exhibit to house the polar bears.  

Polar bears come from the Arctic and they exist in the five nation.  Professor Lindqvist has observed the exhibit throughout her student’s project.

“It's been very nice.  My work has to do with gathering genetic data, genomic data. A lot of it has to do with understanding the evolutionary history of the polar bear, how it originated and how it evolved, and also partly we are trying to look at what really makes a polar bear a polar bear. How is it different from its sister species the Brown Bear or the Grisly,” said Lindqvist.

Heatwole says she would have never imagine to have an opportunity to get closer to the cubs than the average person --She described her experience like "a dream come true."