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New Polar Bears Arriving Soon

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, announced today that two polar bear cubs, Astra and Laerke, will move to Point Defiance Zoo in spring 2023.  The transfer is being conducted per recommendations by Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) polar bear population experts.

polar bears Astra and Laerke
Photo: Detroit Zoo/Patti Truesdell

As with all recommendations, zoos collaborate to ensure the best possible outcomes for the animals. These recommendations support the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied polar bear population, as evidenced by one of the program’s main objectives – introducing vulnerable species of animals in hopes of mating.

Sisters Astra and Laerke were born on Nov. 17, 2020, to mother Suka and father Nuka. Just two days after her birth, however, Laerke suffered a medical emergency – separating her from her sister and leaving her weak and in need of constant, intricate lifesaving care from the DZS’s animal care staff.

The cubs were apart for more than two years before reuniting in spring 2023 at the Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life habitat – and since then, they have been inseparable, spending many days at the Zoo playing and roaming around the Arctic Ring of Life. At more than two years old, Astra and Laerke are at an age when they would be living on their own in the wild, away from their mother – so this move is natural and necessary for their continued development.

polar bear Laerke swimming
Photo: Detroit Zoo/Patti Truesdell

“We are saddened Laerke and Astra will be leaving us, but the Detroit Zoo is so proud to have played a role that influenced how these two cubs grew up,” said Betsie Meister, associate curator of mammals for the DZS. “With that said, we know they are going to a great home at Point Defiance Zoo, another outstanding, AZA-accredited facility, and we are confident they will thrive in their new environment.”

“Astra and Laerke are high-energy, playful bears who each have an incredible story,” added Malia Somerville, interim general curator for Point Defiance Zoo. “Our animal care and veterinary teams have decades of experience caring for polar bears, and we are looking forward to introducing the sisters to our community here in Tacoma – where we will help them grow in their new home.”

Point Defiance Zoo has been a home to polar bears for more than 80 years and, along with the Detroit Zoo, is certified by Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center. Blizzard, Point Defiance Zoo’s last remaining polar bear, was diagnosed with liver cancer and humanely euthanized in May 2022. Since then, the zoo has been preparing and making improvements to the habitat to accommodate new polar bear residents.

Photo: Detroit Zoo/Jennifer Harte

“We know Astra and Laerke will be warmly welcomed to Point Defiance Zoo,” Somerville said. “Our guests, staff and volunteers have been eager to see polar bears return, as they have always inspired our community to take action in their own lives to reduce their carbon footprint and help protect polar bears in the wild. Polar bears need sea ice to survive, but the seasonal ice they depend on is shrinking due to climate warming.”

Polar bears are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission has designated the species as facing a high risk of global extinction.

Polar bears, Astra and Laerke, will be transferred to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium with authorization from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Division of Management Authority.