A four-year-old polar bear named Sakari, which arrived at the Buffalo Zoo about a month ago, will make his local public debut on New Year's Day.
Sakari, who came to Buffalo from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, was transferred as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan. He'll eventually be introduced to Luna, the Buffalo Zoo's longtime resident female, after spending a little more time getting used to his surroundings.
"We like to have them used to their place before we do any sort of introductions," explained Lynn Hougle, a keeper with the Buffalo Zoo's Sea Lion-Otter-Arctic (SOAR) Team. "We want him to be really comfortable with the exhibit and, also, the routine of coming in and out of holding and getting fed, those sorts of things."
Sakari has not yet been introduced to Luna, but Hougle said he has picked up her scent and is aware of her presence. The next steps toward bringing the two together include viewing each other through a mesh door. Once it is clear the polar bears are comfortable with those meetings, keepers will advance toward allowing physical contact between them.
The public will be allowed to see Sakari for the first time on New Year's Day. For the first two months of 2017, the Buffalo Zoo is marking "Polar Bear Days," featuring five dollar admissions for every visitor, every day from January 1 through February 28.
Sakari's debut will be the latest in a series of new zoo animals that have drawn crowds to the Delaware Park attraction in recent months. The year began with a gorilla birth, followed by the births of lion cubs. Earlier this month, the zoo unveiled a red panda.
"As we get into the middle of winter here, we're always looking for fresh air opportunities," said Buffalo Zoo marketing director Todd Geise. "I encourage families to bundle up a little bit, come on out and check out the polar bears, our beautiful Arctic fox and our brand new red panda, which we just released out into his habitat a couple of weeks ago."
Below: Sakari steps outside for a media preview. The polar bear, who was transferred to Buffalo from Wisconsin last month, will make his local public debut on New Year's Day.
Below: Buffalo Zoo polar bear Luna gets up close with WBFO's Michael Mroziak