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Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them

By Valeria Sukhova, Svetlana Skarbo
19 January 2021

Four Russian women share unique experience of becoming mother bears in the first ever attempt to nurture zoo cubs.

The two cubs - still unnamed male and a female - were born to seven year old mother bear Seryozhka, from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, and an 18-year-old father bear, Sedov. Picture: Yelena Milovidova/Gelendzhik Safari Park

A team of six people - four ‘foster mothers’ and two vets - has been working round the clock since the beginning of December when two polar bear cubs were born and rejected by their mother at a safari park in the south of Russia.

Anastasia and Olesya Sakhatskaya, both 39, Maria Moroz, 32 and Yelena Milovidova, 31 have so far made tremendous progress in getting the cubs through the most dangerous postnatal period. 

The two cubs - still unnamed male and a female - were born to seven year old mother bear Seryozhka, from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, and an 18-year-old father bear, Sedov. 

These are the first cubs for Sedov, much-loved by people of Krasnoyarsk after spending most of his life in the local zoo Royev Ruchey Park. 

Many in this Siberian city were anxiously waiting for updates on the cubs’ progress from the safari park in Gelendzhik, and cheered on social media when it became clear that the very first hurdles of nursing the cubs were over. 

Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them



Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them. Pictures and video: Yelena Milovidova/Gelendzhik Safari Park


‘There were no cases of nurturing polar bear cubs rejected by their mother in a Russian zoo yet, this is the first experience for us. In the world there were only five successful cases of polar bear cubs raised since birth in captivity. I do hope that we will succeed’, said Yelena Milovidova, deputy director of the Gelendzhik safari park.

First six weeks from birth were the hardest, with four ‘foster mothers’ and two vets taking shifts to ensure that the cubs body temperature was always stable, and they were receiving the right amount of food. 

The team has even attempted milking the mother bear, teaching Seryozhka to stand upright and to lean forward while getting snacks so that the staff could get much-needed mother’s milk; but the bear wasn’t patient enough for that.

Instead Seryozhka, who didn’t even attempt on her own to feed the cubs, allowed the staff to take some of her blood. 

The blood serum was used to provide the cubs with the first vital immunity boost which normally comes with mothers milk. 

Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them 



Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them 


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them
Four Russian women share unique experience of becoming mother bears in the first ever attempt to nurture zoo cubs. Pictures: Yelena Milovidova/Gelendzhik Safari Park


Just like human babies, the polar bear cubs needed gentle massages several times a day; as the video from the zoo shows, they really enjoy having their nails shortened. 

‘They don’t seem to distinguish between the four of us. They know the scent of our skin and clothes, and sensing any of us getting close to them means just one thing: mother is here, and food is coming’, Elena Milovidova said. 

The cubs will never be reintroduced back to the wild, like is done in Russia with brown bears and some other rare animals, for example Amur tigers and leopards. 

The team is therefore teaching them how to interact with humans, starting from the most basic things of being tactile with them.

Recently the cubs, each weighing over four kilogram opened their eyes.

They should now start doubling in weight every couple of weeks. 


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them


Manicures, massages, warm milk and 24/7 care to raise polar bear cubs whose mother rejected them
Anastasia and Olesya Sakhatskaya, both 39, Maria Moroz, 32 and Yelena Milovidova, 31 have so far made tremendous progress in getting the cubs through the most dangerous postnatal period. Pictures and video: Yelena Milovidova/Gelendzhik Safari Park


When they are three months, the team will start introducing meals like minced fish and a mixture of mince and milk, similar to creamy meat soup.

The next task will be to ensure that they are immune to the infections of the outside world by gradually introducing them to outdoor walks, as the first several months of their lives would be spent in sterile conditions. 

Comments (5)

Nature mustn't be forced.
@K_Talarek, London
07/02/2021 16:14
0
0
@Benedikt I could'nt agree with you more pertaining to this issue. The tragedy of Knut also crossed my mind.
I would go even further to state that all mass tourist activity with boats, treks and camping on polar bear territory in their own natural habitat should be be strictly prohibited...Not only does it end in uneccessary tragedy for the bears; but we spread our viruses and infections transmitting them to these magestic beautiful creatures...

Thanks a mil Siberian Times for the update on these adorable bundles of snow white fluff, close up captions and a personal touch; allowing us to put a face to the marvelous, dedicated team of substitute mama's! Great Work.
Anonymous, Switzerland
23/01/2021 22:26
6
0
Very heartwarming to see such nurturing of majestic animals. Very nicely done ladies!
Brian Erdrich, Anchorage, Alaska
23/01/2021 07:52
3
0
Garry Peters.NO WAY! just keep at least here the bloody tourists away. knocking on windows. using their flashlights on cameras and handies to get - best photo for FB or Twitter-.- I was first to visit the bears-. the thing the little bears need is peace and quiet.and love and care of their -handlers -. Read up on the story of KNUT, the little ice bear baby in Berlin. This must not happen with these little worms...
Benedikt MORAK, Russia
22/01/2021 12:24
2
1
Bears are my favourite animals. Mazeltov to the ladies and organisation providing care.
Perhaps we could set up a tourist venue to view the animals as they are being raised?
Garry Peters, Auckland nz
21/01/2021 02:09
3
0
1

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