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Nikita, a 14-year-old male polar bear, shakes off after a brief swim in his enclosure at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Nikita the polar bear makes his debut at Utah's Hogle Zoo

By Deseret News Photographers | Posted - Apr. 15, 2021 at 6:36 p.m.


7 photos

SALT LAKE CITY — Nikita, a 14-year-old male polar bear, made his debut at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

The 14 year-old male polar bear, from North Carolina Zoo, has been getting acquainted with his animal care team and adjusting to his new surroundings.

According to zoo officials, Nikita weighs over 1,000 pounds and stands 10 1/2 feet tall on his hind legs — twice the size of zoo's last pair of females.

"Nikita has been a very enjoyable addition to Rocky Shores," keeper Michelle Hanenburg said in a statement. "He is very eager to train and work with keepers, and really enjoys the opportunity to learn and interact."

She said he loves playing with things that are easy to carry and pounce on. "He loves carrying his favorite toys to his preferred napping areas and will curl up and cuddle at night with a favorite toy."

Erica Hansen, the zoo's community relations manager, said Nikita will have the option of being out in his exhibit space or going into the back area, so he may not always be visible for guests.

Nikita, a 14-year-old male polar bear, grabs an ice block in his enclosure at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Nikita, a 14-year-old male polar bear, grabs an ice block in his enclosure at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

"This is important for Nik's health while he adjusts." Hansen, said, noting guests should plan some flexibility during visits. "If he's not out when you first stop by, go visit the grizzlies or big cats and then come back. We know the community is excited to meet him but we also want to make sure he's as comfortable as possible," she said.

Hogle Zoo said farewell to both its previous female polar bears, Hope and Nora, and has been anticipating the arrival of NIkita. Hope went to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago to participate in their breeding program. Nora went back to Oregon Zoo which just opened its brand new Polar Passage exhibit.

According to Hansen, the zoo has a long-standing commitment to polar bears. Through its partnership with Polar Bears International, the zoo has contributed both funding and staff support to ensure the survival and preservation of the endangered species. For more information on Polar Bears International or the zoo's work to help save polar bears in the wild, please visit www.polarbearsinternational.org

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