Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Girls Can Get Along Just Fine


I don't know a lot about animals and even less about wild animals (and even less than THAT about women, but I digress). But I know that if you have a species that is 'endangered', that's not good. I mean, if you were 'endangered', how would that make you feel? Safe? Secure? I doubt it. On the verge of disappearing from the face of the earth forever? Now, you're talking. Fortunately, humans don't want animals to disappear from the earth anymore than they want themselves to disappear, thus the creation of the Endangered Species List. When animals are on that list, those who are supposed to be 'in the know' about all things animalistic are supposed to aid the creatures in reproducing their species.

Now, if you're thinking that means that they join in, you'd be wrong. You can try it yourself if you don't believe me, but I'd guess you'd be somewhat regretful the next morning when you woke up next to Ling-Ling and couldn't remember the night before. But humans are supposed to pair up the animals in captivity (sort of like the Wild Kingdom version of match.com) and hope that they hit it off enough for them to go at it sufficiently enough to result in the birth of another creature. And who's to say if two creatures are going to hit it off enough to do that? That's why in Japan, they were getting concerned about the two polar bears they had in captivity.

It would seem that back in June, Tsuyoshi, the 4-year-old male polar bear, was paired up with Kurumi, an 11-year-old female bear at the Kushiro Municipal Zoo in Hokkaido (that's in Japan). Actually, Tsuyoshi had been at the zoo for at least 3 years prior to the June hook-up experiment, so the folks at the zoo had been familiar with the bear for quite some time. That will be a factor later on in this story. (Or at least, it should have been!) And apparently age is not a factor in the animal kingdom. From what I can figure, one polar bear year is the about the same as 3-4 human years. So you've got a 12-16 year old male paired up with a 33-44 year old female. Yamma-hamma. That's only like a 21-32 year age difference there, so chances are that older female will be able to teach the younger one a thing or two about...stuff. He would so go off bragging to his buddies after that encounter....if only things had turned out just a bit differently. Just a bit.


Now according to the zookeepers, who were frustrated and a wee bit puzzled according to the folks over there at Reuters - Africa (Yeah, go figure.), "...the bear couple, on a breeding mission, showed no signs of chemistry, and Tsuyoshi has never gone into rut even during his mating period." (Huh. So, is it all males, regardless of species, that have a "mating rut" that they go into? Because after a while, it always seems to end up being just same old, same old, doesn't it?) Yeah, I wonder why that would be. Perhaps if it's only males that go into a "mating rut", then the reason that Tsuyoshi didn't go into a "mating rut" was because......? Oh, come on! You haven't put it together by now?! Do I have to spell it out for you?! (Of course I do. I am typing!) He's a she!

"Handlers of a popular polar bear, brought to mate with a female in a zoo in northern Japan, found their breeding plan was doomed when they noticed that he, in fact, was a she." Actually, their breeding plan was doomed before they noticed. It wouldn't have mattered if they never noticed, they still weren't going to to mate. (Well, they still weren't going to reproduce. There's nothing wrong with a little experimenting is all I'm sayin'.) And their explanation for the misunderstanding was pretty lame if you're asking me. "We thought he was a male, so we never had any doubts as we took care of him." That's it? That's all you folks have to say for yourselves? You guys are the zookeepers, correct?

So how did they ever figure it out? "But one day we realised that the two bears urinate in the same way, and we thought, is that how males do it? And once we started to look at things that way, we weren't quite so sure." (I'm starting to think that four years might not have been as long as it seems, given that statement from the folks who were in charge of this whole ordeal. I'm starting to think it's a wonder they ever got things straightened out.) That's what it took? You had to watch them pee before you thought something might have gone horribly awry with your polar bear mating plan there? You know, that, um, unit that they pee out of is usually a pretty good indicator of the male/female variety of the species there. Actually, of any species, its' a pretty good indicator.

With suspicions fully aroused (which is more than I can say for Tsuyoshi), they did "two DNA examinations of Tsuyoshi's hair and a manual exam" and determined that Tsuyoshi was a male. (Did it really require those two DNA exams? Wouldn't the manual exam have been plenty? Seems like overkill.) And the justification as to how they hadn't known before all of the testing (both genetic AND manual, for some reason) was even lamer than the explanation as to how they started becoming suspicious. They said, "But because Tsuyoshi was supposed to be a male, she came here, and because she came here, we were able to take care of her since she was very small." Um, what? Never mind. It's probably not worth it.

But apparently "It is not uncommon for the sex of polar bears to be misread, as their long hair makes it difficult to distinguish, especially when the bears are young. Well, exactly how long was this bear's hair? I mean, are we talking Cousin Itt or something? I'm thinking it would have to be pretty long hair to miss....that. And really, whatever the reason was, it appears to be of no consolation for the zookeepers who expressed, "We do have mixed feelings." "Mixed" with what?! And why? "Mixed" because you thought you knew what you were doing and it seems rather evident that might not be the case? At all? "Mixed" because you had such high hopes for the happy couple? (Awww...don't throw that hope away just yet. They could end up being perfectly happy together. Yes, even though they're a couple of chicks. Er, bears. Er, girls. Even though they're a couple of girls. They can still be perfectly happy. They won't reproduce, but they can be happy.)

After reading about this unfortunate case of mistaken gender, I read a bunch of other stuff about polar bears and I learned that the polar bear world is a weird world. Take for example Zero the polar bear. Zero had fallen into a dry moat in his pen/cage/area at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Now, the zoo folks had hoped the bear (who was 19-years old) would use the stairs to climb out of the moat. The bear had other thoughts and did not use the stairs (no matter how much they rhymed). The AP reports that "After two weeks, they anesthetized the 1,100-pound bear on Oct. 30 and hoisted him out." Two weeks? OK, maybe four years was a bit long for these other zookeepers to catch on. But still, two weeks of hoping that a bear would learn that those block-y things over there are a way OUT? Were they surprised the bear didn't get that? I'm thinking they might have been.

Then there's Knut. Knut was rejected by his mother (she was probably on crack and living in the hood), so they bottle-fed him at the Berlin Zoo. Somehow, that morphed into Knut putting on a performance or two every day with his keeper. I don't really know what kind of a performance a polar bear cub would put on. Piano, maybe? Whatever it was, the zoo raked in about $10 million in 2007. Now Knut has his own TV show, a full feature length film and (oh, sweet Mother of God) a blog. (Alright, he is kinda cute over there, but I have a blog! I'm kinda cute! I don't have no $10 million.)

And Germany didn't stop with Knut. No, then they got hold of a polar bear named Flocke and bottle fed that polar bear, in hopes of having the trend continue. And they didn't stop there either. Then another German zoo got another polar bear, this one named Wilbaer (American translation: Wilbur the Bear). No word on whether or not those bears had an agent that could get them a sweet deal like Knut. But has no one in Germany noticed that Germany, as defined simply by location only, is NOT a polar region?! Why are they collecting polar bears like baseball cards? Make them stop!

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