Many people wonder where Aurora the polar bear goes in the colder months, when they don’t see her outside as much as they do in the summer season. The answer is that she is doing what most female polar bears do during this time of year: denning.
Aurora recently came out of the denning season. A polar bear’s appetite decreases drastically during this time, and it becomes very picky about what it chooses to eat. During the fall, Aurora does not appear interested in bear chow, fat or lard, meat, and even the fresh salmon fillets that she usually enjoys. Polar bears rest and sleep a lot during denning season, choosing a quiet and private place away from all the hustle and bustle. Aurora tends to use her inside room or her cubbing den, which is away from where people can see her.
As it gets colder, polar bears in their natural range wait for the ice to reform so they can once again hunt for seals to eat. Polar bears are ambush predators, so they lay on the ice for hours waiting for a seal to pop up in their breathing holes; they then grab the seal and sit on the ice some more to eat it.
Polar bears naturally try to conserve as much energy as they can. So, as much fun as it is to watch a polar bear swimming, it is not a behavior that happens very frequently. Aurora tends to swim less frequently when it’s cold, possibly because the water is typically warmer than the air, so taking a dip in the pool is not as refreshing as it would be in the summer.
Now that it’s winter, the best time to see Aurora is first thing in the morning, right as the Zoo is opening for the day. Another great time to watch Aurora is at 1:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays when we usually feed her. I can answer any questions you may have during that time as well. We do this year round. In the fall and winter it lasts for about 10 to 20 minutes, but in the summer it can last for as long as 30 to 45 minutes. You can see her best from the outside overlooks or, if you would rather be inside, you can view her from the Rocky Coasts Gallery.
Aurora also receives 4 to 5 additional small feedings each day so that people have multiple chances to see her. These feedings are scheduled randomly because it is more enriching for her when she doesn’t know when to expect it.
Aurora does spend more time outside now that denning season is over. She likes to wander in and out of the separate areas of her habitat, and we always give her the choice of where she wants to be, so if you don’t see her right away, give it a few minutes! As anyone who has experienced a visit with Aurora can attest, it’s always worth the wait.
– Heidi Beifus, Zoo Keeper