Cheery checkup news for rescued polar bear

TACOMA — Kenneth, one of two polar bears brought to Tacoma after they were rescued from a Mexican circus in Puerto Rico, is underweight, needs dental work and has a skin condition, but passed his first physical exam.

Kenneth, 16, and Boris, 18, were brought to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium on Nov. 9 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized them.

Holly Reed, veterinarian at the Tacoma zoo, flew to Puerto Rico — where it was 89 degrees and the humidity was 80 percent — to pick up her zoo's newest polar bears.

Fish and Wildlife agents seized six polar bears after animal-rights activists raised concerns about the care they were receiving from the Mexican circus. One bear died during the flight north; a female went to the Detroit Zoo and two males went to a zoo in Asheboro, N.C.

Reed was aghast to see polar bears living in that climate.

"That alone is oppressive, I am sure," she said. "They're used to dry environments. I think it (the seizure) was an appropriate thing. I think the bears certainly needed better conditions, better care."

Boris, who weighs 1,055 pounds, will have his first physical Thursday.

The polar bears are adjusting to their lives in Tacoma, but it's taking time, Reed said. They are learning about saltwater pools, fresh fish and other perks as captive wildlife in a temperate climate.

Kenneth didn't want to jump into the swimming pool when he first got to Tacoma because he didn't know how deep the water was, Reed said. He didn't make his first real dive until Thanksgiving.

"Now, he spends time running in and out of the pool like a kid at the swimming pool," she said.

Zoo dietitians also are taking Kenneth and Boris off dog chow and feeding them polar-bear chow with lots of cod-liver oil.

"If you slather that all over the food, they'll eat anything," Reed said.