POWELL — Lee, a 20-year-old male polar bear, is scheduled to move from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to his new home at another facility also accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
As Lee has gained a strong following since his arrival in 2018, fans are encouraged to visit soon if they wish to see him before he leaves for his new home, which will be announced by the receiving facility when they unveil the exciting news to their community.
Two Columbus Zoo Animal Care team members, two Facilities team members, and a staff veterinarian will travel with Lee to ensure that he arrives safely. While Lee will be greatly missed by the zoo’s Animal Care team and the Central Ohio community who quickly became fans of him, the move was recommended by the AZA Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a program managed by the AZA to maximize the genetic diversity and increase the population sustainability of threatened and endangered species in human care. Scientists have also noted that polar bears are generally solitary animals (with the exception of mothers with cubs and when males and females come together for breeding) and do not pair bond, but some individuals can still be more social than others. This SSP recommendation was made so that Lee can act as a companion to the receiving facility’s female polar bear. With Lee moving to another facility, there is also a possibility of receiving another SSP recommendation that would pair a new male with the Columbus Zoo’s female polar bears in the future.
Lee arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium from Denver Zoo in November 2018. He sired his first cub, Kulu, who was born at the Columbus Zoo on November 28, 2019—Thanksgiving Day—to mother, Aurora. Young Kulu is still living with his mother at the Columbus Zoo and now weighs almost 300 pounds! Columbus Zoo guests will still have the opportunity to view Aurora and Kulu as well as Aurora’s twin sister, Anana, on a rotational basis.
“Though it’s always hard to say good-bye to a member of our Zoo family, we remain committed to our important role in collaborative programs working to protect the future of this threatened species. We are very proud of the success of the polar bear breeding program at the Columbus Zoo, as well as the knowledge and expertise that our care team continues to contribute to the scientific community and our conservation partners,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President and CEO Tom Stalf.
In 2008, the polar bear became the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened primarily due to climate change. Polar bears are native to the circumpolar north, including the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark (Greenland). They are at the top of the Arctic food chain and primarily eat seals. Polar bear populations are declining due to the disappearance of sea ice, and experts estimate that only 20,000-25,000 polar bears are left in their native range. Some scientists believe if the warming trend continues, two-thirds of the polar bear population could disappear by the year 2050.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is dedicated to conserving polar bear populations in their native range. Since 2008, the Zoo has contributed more than $280,000 to research benefiting polar bears in the Arctic. The Zoo is also designated as an Arctic Ambassador Center by Polar Bears International (PBI). At the Columbus Zoo, visitors are encouraged to do their part to save this amazing species by turning off lights when leaving a room, minimizing their use of heating and cooling units, and other ways to reduce energy consumption.
For more information about animals, wildlife experiences, and other happenings at the Columbus Zoo, be sure to follow the zoo’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and visit us at ColumbusZoo.org.
Submitted by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.