On December 9, a Polar Bear named Giovanna gave birth to two cubs at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. Both births were seen on cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births, Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view. Secondly, this is the first time that a Polar Bear birth has been filmed in color worldwide!
The cubs were born at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively, to parents Giovanna (7) and Yogi (14). The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a Polar Bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”
Curator Beatrix Köhler is impressed with the Polar Bear mom’s behavior, saying, "Giovanna is caring for her twins very capably as if she were an experienced mother, but at seven years old, she is actually a first-time mum!”
The cubs are pictured at three weeks old.
Photo credit: Hellabrun Zoo
See a video of the little cubs:
Hellabrunn Zoo has shared a timeline of events describing the two remarkable births:
08:37: Giovanna walks down the corridor between the two dens. She bites one of her front paws to counteract the pain of a contraction. Then she moves out of camera view but then takes several steps back into frame.
08:39: View of Giovanna’s back. A polar bear cub slides onto the floor in a very speedy birth. It is about 8 inches (20 cm) long, hairless, smeared in blood, blind and deaf.
09:40: Giovanna pushes her back legs forcefully against the wall and her body shakes as she has a contraction.
09:43: A thin arm, a small head and then another arm come into view. Giovanna gives birth to a second baby. At this point she is so busy with her first born that she doesn’t attend to the second baby immediately. The little one is left to fend for itself for the next few minutes. It wriggles and turns round and is very active.
10:05: Giovanna notices something going on behind her. She turns her head and notices the second baby. She turns round and picks it up carefully in her mouth. Then she leans against the wall and lays it on her leg next to its older sibling.
22:40: The babies now resemble miniature Polar Bears. Giovanna has painstakingly licked them clean over the last few hours so that they are now bright white and dry. They are snuggling into mum’s warm coat and tumbling around on her chest. They’re already drinking her milk.
December 11 2013, two days after the birth: the Polar Bear twins are developing well. Giovanna is taking excellent care of them. They are both regularly drinking her milk. In between, they are tumbling around on mum.
The first weeks in a Polar Bear cub’s life are critical. Caretakers say that Giovanna is acquitting herself admirably, but still complications could arise. She won’t be out and about in the external enclosure with her cubs until March 2014 at the earliest.