Zoo celebrates polar bears' birthday Dec. 1

November 26, 2012 - 12:26pm

Elderly bear siblings Conrad and Tasul are turning 28

Oregon Zoo polar bears Conrad and Tasul may be getting on in years, but they still like a good party, keepers say.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, the popular brother-and-sister pair turn 28 — quite old for polar bears — and at 10:30 a.m. that day the zoo will throw a birthday party for them, with treats and enrichment items that encourage the bears to exercise and think critically.
“Conrad and Tasul have touched the hearts of zoo visitors and staff alike,” said Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the zoo’s senior marine animal keeper, who has worked with the bears for more than a decade. “We’re having a little party for them, with some of their favorite enrichment toys and some cream cheese for them to lick off the windows. It should be a lot of fun for visitors to watch, too.”
Conrad and Tasul were born Dec. 1, 1984, at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, S.C. The healthy brother-and-sister team arrived in Portland on Jan. 31, 1986.
“The median life expectancy for polar bears is 20.7 years for males and 24.1 years for females, so 28 is considered quite elderly,” Nicassio-Hiskey said. “You’d never know it to look at these two though — they’re still active and playful, especially in cooler weather. Our staff works hard to keep them healthy, active and engaged.”
Nicassio-Hiskey notes that while the siblings are doing well, their wild counterparts are struggling to survive in a warming world.
Polar bears are threatened by climate change, and should current climate warming trends be left unchecked, scientists predict the death of up to two-thirds of all wild polar bears by 2050. Global warming is melting the Arctic sea ice polar bears call home, and with it, access to the food and shelter necessary for the species’ survival. The zoo hopes that celebrating Conrad and Tasul’s birthday will encourage visitors to protect the twins’ wild relatives. By reducing their carbon footprint, individuals can help reverse warming trends.
The polar bear has been designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the World Conservation Union’s Species Survival Commission has reclassified the polar bear as a vulnerable species and placed it on its Red List. The Red List identifies species facing a high risk of global extinction.