Special delivery: Polar bear lands in Louisville

Courtesy: Louisville Zoo / John Gomes
Courtesy: Louisville Zoo / John Gomes

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A nearly 70 pound polar bear now calls Louisville home.  Qannik, pronounced Ken-ick, resides at the Louisville Zoo after being spotted on Alaska's North Slope in April by employees of oil giant Connoco-Phillips.

Qannik will live in climate-controlled quarters inside the Louisville Zoo's new Glacier Run exhibit.  Her name means "snowflake" and is also the name of the oil field where she was found.

"It's bittersweet when a cub is abandoned by her mom but it's great that we're here to help Qannik have a great life," said Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak.

The mother and cub couldn't be reunited, which meant if not rescued, Qannik would have likely died.  In fact, she was already malnourished, weighing only 15 pounds when she should have weighed 30.

Her weight is now up to about 70 pounds, but there's still a long road ahead.  Louisville's improved facilities and expert staff are just two reasons why she'll call Louisville home; but to get her "home" took some work.

The flight planning alone to get her to Louisville took two months, as UPS officials prepared what they call a "polar bear express".

"We had to deal with special crating, ground transportation, loading methods, air transportation, air craft access for handlers, and food and supply shipments," said Mitch Nichols with UPS.

She arrived Monday, and brings the total captive population of polar bears in North America to only 79.

"The polar bear is our heritage, it is our lion, it is our tiger, it is our elephant, it is North America's main species," said Robert Buchanan of Polar Bears International.

Qannik won't be out and about just yet at the zoo; officials are going to keep her inside for awhile to make sure she's cultured and can adjust to her new surroundings after such a dramatic and stressful trip.

There's no timeline for when she'll be out and about for the public to see.  She'll join one other polar bear at the zoo, but the two won't meet just yet.  Zoo leaders say they hope to get another polar bear in the future.

Qannik on Twitter:  Twitter.com/QannikTheCubLZ

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