If you see Neil and his new roommate, Nanuyaak, pawing the ground and showing each other their sharp teeth—don’t worry, it doesn’t mean they don’t like each other.
“You’ll see that a lot of times when polar bears are interacting, where they’ll go mouth to mouth with wide open mouths,” explains Allison Jungheim, senior keeper at Como Zoo. “Because of their size, it can seem intense, but most of that is a bluff—it doesn’t mean they’re trying to inflict harm on the other.”
In fact, since they were introduced earlier this winter, Neil and Nan have been getting along swimmingly, sharing the pool, showing curiosity in each other, and savoring favorite treats. (Neil likes sweet potatoes; Nan enjoys the occasional can of tuna). Though polar bears in the wild are solitary by nature, Neil spent his life living side-by-side with his twin brother Buzz, an “alpha” polar bear who dominated Neil until his death in 2020. Now it seems Nan is stepping in to play that role in the polar bear power structure.
“She’s a little spitfire of an old lady,” Jungheim says. “She’s very energetic, and she bosses Neil around the habitat. She’s a bear who knows what she wants and how to get it.”
Unlike Neil, 25, who was born at the San Diego Zoo, 26-year-old Nanuyaak, (an Inupiaq word that means “young of a bear”), was born in the wild but orphaned at a young age. Discovered under a house in Barrow, Alaska, wildlife authorities determined she was too young to survive on her own and was placed under human care at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Now a seasoned traveler, Nan has also lived at the Toledo Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo, and is the mother of Nikita, a 12-year-old male now living at Utah’s Hogle Zoo.
“She’s been a charmer for many years,” says Jungheim, adding that the keepers at Brookfield Zoo were sorry to see her go, and sent her to St. Paul with a long list of food likes and dislikes. “Unlike Neil, who is the garbage can of food and will eat anything, Nan will turn up her nose at marshmallows. She prefers romaine and iceberg lettuce.”
Nan and Neil can now be seen every day in Polar Bear Odyssey, where they’ve been spotted enjoying the deep pool together, and basking in the spring sunshine. Schedule your next Como visit soon to help welcome Nan to her new forever home. Make a reservation.
Our partners at Xcel Energy want to remind us that “Together, we can all do our part to support the polar bears and our environment, by conserving energy at home and encouraging friends and family to do the same.” Xcel Energy invests in clean energy solutions and offers helpful programs and simple tips to make conserving energy easy.
Did you know:
- A Como Friends donor provided the funding to move Nan from the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois to Como Zoo in January 2021.
- In 2008, the polar bear became the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened primarily due to climate change.
- There are an estimated 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the wild, and polar bear numbers are projected to decline 30% by 2050.