‘Bear’ Necessities

| August 3, 2011

Qannik.The Voice-Tribune Reports

A big time celebrity has landed at the zoo, and while she’s the talk of the town, no one’s quite sure how to say her name.

That celebrity is Qannik (pronounced Ken’ick), the Alaskan polar bear cub who was brought to Louisville on a climate-controlled UPS Boeing 747-400 after she was discovered orphaned on the North Slope of Alaska. We sat down with Qannik to talk about her new home in Louisville and how she’s adjusting to all the fame and attention at the zoo.

Who named you and what does your name mean?
My name! Slightly hard to say, but super fun to try to say. I was named after the ConocoPhillips Alaska oil field where they found me in April. My name is Qannik. It means “snowflake” in the Iñupiaq native Alaskan language. I think my zoo is considering producing a shirt like the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Looavul, Luhvul” shirt since my name is such a doozy. Try to spell my name next time you play “Words with Friends,” I bet you get mega points. You can thank me later.

When is your birthday and how old are you?
I am seven months old. I was born in January 2011. It is hard to estimate my exact birthday because I was born in a snow den my mother built to protect me from the harsh Arctic Alaskan winter.

Qannik.Forgive our rudeness, but how much do you weigh? And how much will you weigh when you’re all grown up?
Actually, I am not shy about it. I just hit the 100 pound mark this week! You can’t imagine the freedom of eating without worrying about my vanity and not having to worry about my next meal. I should be somewhere between 330 to 650 pounds when I grow up.

How was the flight to Louisville?
It was really cool, and I don’t mean just the cabin temperature which, by the way, was perfect at 58 to 60 degrees. UPS and Captain Edward took really good care of me. He was the best, and it was smooth sailing, err flying I mean. My surrogate Mom, Jane Anne Franklin, fed me frozen formula pops, and I snoozed quite well. My own personal veterinarian (ahem, can we say rockstar?), Dr. Zoli Gyimesi, monitored me in flight. Oh, don’t think I was the only one with the “special treatment.” Captain Edward made homemade chocolate chip cookies for the humans, too. It was all around awesome. I felt expertly cared for and really special.

Judging from the Coke and Pepsi commercials on TV, polar bears really dig their sodas. True or false? And speaking of that, what do you like to eat?
I can’t speak to the soda part, but I can tell you that I eat very well. I had to gain weight because I was malnourished when they found me in Alaska, weighing just 15 pounds at the time. I’d been separated from my mom and sibling and couldn’t find food on my own, so they gave me heavy whipping cream and a formula mix to gain weight. I am still gaining about a pound a day and am right on track. There’s that freedom again. I still eat the formula, Infamil (the baby formula you all know) and Esbelac (a puppy formula) mixed with cod liver oil (though Jane Anne is replacing that with olive oil now that I am on track with weight, as it is healthier for me). I also eat bananas, herring, salmon and rice. Jane Anne and Kevin Grizzle (my other surrogate parent) gave me peanut butter the other day. Yummy.

Qannik.What’s your favorite thing about the zoo and Louisville?
I am digging the dig pit (pun intended) in my bedroom suite. The pool in my suite is real swell too. My very own pool. Glacier Run is really cool. And, the toys, can we talk about the toys? Jane Anne has hooked me up. Boomer balls, fake seals, fake icebergs, buckets, logs to walk on. I hear her tell others that each of my toys teaches me something I would be learning in the wild, but they are also just plain fun too. Finally, I do love that they let me tweet. Follow me at @QannikTheCubLZ. Just saying!

What do you miss most about home?
Pat Lampi at the Alaska Zoo was really kind to me and took great care of me when I was in Alaska. I miss him. But I have all these new caregivers now that fawn over me and I do kind of like the media attention I must say. I promise not to get too big for my britches though and let it go to my head.

You’ve been “riding solo” in quarantine. How do you stay occupied?
I heard John Walczak, the Louisville Zoo director, tell the UPS folks the other day that I self-occupy well. Fancy way of saying I enjoy playing and swimming and eating and frolicking and napping. An important thing to remember is that we polar bears are solitary in the wild when we are grown.

Qannik.Who’s your best friend at the zoo?
I really love all of my new family, but I’d have to say Jane Anne. She is the assistant mammal curator here, and she has become my mom really. She gives me cues like my mom would have done in the wild, indicating when something is OK or when I need to be cautious about something. She taught me how to swim by giving me cues that it was safe to go all the way in. She even stayed with me overnight those first few nights. She pretty much rocks! And, so does Kevin Grizzle. These two take copious notes on my behavior. I heard them tell someone the other day that what I am teaching them (yep, me) might very well change the paradigm for bear management in the zoo world. That is heady stuff. I could shift a paradigm. What is a paradigm?

When will we finally get to visit you in Glacier Run?
Well! I am not being a diva, I promise. I just finished quarantine and now Jane Anne and Kevin are teaching me how to move through Glacier Run. Much like you get a kid ready for school by testing the bus and bus routes, they are getting me ready too. This means new hallways to sniff, new doors, steps to learn to climb, new furniture, new scents, new sounds … you get the point. I have a lot of new intel to take in. I promise that my zoo will let everyone know. I am as excited about you as you are about me.

Qannik.What I hope to teach the kids and kids at heart that come visit me?
I want to remind those who visit me that polar bears are one of North America’s iconic species. Africa has elephants and tigers; Asia has orangutans and elephants. Polar bears are one of ours. I want to remind them that I am an ambassador for my species and that my fellow polar bears need ice that allows them to fish and survive. And, finally to educate them about the small changes we can make in our lives that will positively affect my fellow polar bears and their much-needed ice.

How’s it going with the social networking thing? You’re pretty funny on Twitter.
I do love to tweet. Tweet. What a funny name, sure glad it comes from the animal kingdom. Don’t forget to follow me @QannikTheCubLZ.

You not only have a Twitter account, but an anonymous person has set one up in your name as a sort of online homage to you. Way cool – right?
What is that saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

How do you handle being such a big celebrity? Do you ever get annoyed by all of the pictures?
Does it make me a diva if I say I like the attention? I am pretty adorable. In addition to just being fun and being the latest cool thing, I selfishly like the attention to my species. If others take a liking to me and decide they want to learn more about me, it could help improve things for other polar bears. The more you know about something sometimes, the more you learn to care and the more you are motivated to help. That’s a good thing right? No diva here.

I sincerely thank all of Louisville for opening their hearts to me and embracing me. I feel the love!

The unofficial Qannik

Qannik’s fans are so devoted that one clever follower even started a fake Twitter account to pay tribute to the cub.

We asked the fan (who wished to remain anonymous) why he started the Twitter account. Here’s his response:

There are several reasons I started the account:
1) I’m a comedian wannabe, so I thought it would be a good way to post irreverent things to make my friends and other people laugh.

2) As a person who uses social media, I was really interested in the fake twitter accounts that have been created and been so popular. The BronxZooCobra was the obvious influence, but also the fake BP account created after the Gulf oil spill shows that the fake accounts can also have some social importance.

3) I wanted to show some support for Louisville and the Louisville Zoo. I didn’t know that the zoo would create an official account. Anything I do to help bring attention to the work being done for this cub could only help.

4) I think polar bears are on their way to extinction, so I identified with this cub as sort of a hero figure. I wanted to give her a voice that was funny but also a little bit tough and defiant.

Check out the unofficial Qannik page: @QannikBear.

photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | Voice-Tribune

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  1. Dear Qannik,

    Thank you so much for giving this very personal interwiew! You are such a sweet girl and I’m happy to know you’ve found a good home in Louisville. I’m also very pleased to know you’re not letting the fame go in your head :-) Just like you I’m very weak for flattery but that doesn’t make us divas does it?

    Whoever wrote this article,

    What a brilliant way to introduce lovely Qannik for the readers! I wish you, Qannik and her ‘family’ in Louisville a wonderful future!

    Bear hugs from Mervi, Sweden

  2. Crystal Aguilar says:

    I’m so happy you’re doing well. I <3 you, Qannik!!!!

  3. janet campbell says:

    Hi you cuddly cub. This is one of your grandmothers wanting you to know how proud we of you already. You have learned so many things already. You must get your brightness from my side of the family. Do you remember the young woman, Jodi Smith, who found you in the icy Artic when you were separated from your mother. She took you to her work station, fed and kept you warm all day and night, That was my daughter. She was your first human buddy. Now you have many others to care for you. You seem to know that they are on your side. Please treat them with respect and kindness. I wouldn’t expect less of my grandchild cub. I will be keeping an eye on you in Louisville. You really are adorable.Who wouldn’t lose their heart to you. grandma jan