Nikita the polar bear will be allowed outside in his exhibit at the Kansas City Zoo on Friday after being out of public view for nearly two weeks because of illness.
Visitors should not be alarmed by a large black spot on his side. His fur had to be shaved so the veterinarian team could perform an ultrasound to try to determine the nature of the bear’s illness. A polar bear’s skin is naturally black but is hidden by its thick coat.
“We had a few anxious days with Nikita,” zoo director Randy Wisthoff acknowledged to Friends of the Zoo board members this week, adding that the staff was inundated with questions and good wishes from the public.
It proved to be a temporary ailment, but zoos don’t like to take chances with what they call charismatic megavertebrates — or popular big animals.
Chief veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer said the bear was observed to be lethargic on June 17 and was not eating, which was very unusual for the 1,000-pound animal. A member of the public informed the zoo that the day before, Nikita had a bout of explosive diarrhea in the exhibit’s pool. Keepers kept him in the back holding area so vets would have better access to him.
Suedmeyer said the bear was given medications but continued to display discomfort. When there was no improvement by June 20, officials reluctantly decided to anesthetize the animal so they could take blood and perform an ultrasound.
“We had to rule out peritonitis, any kind of blockage and any foreign object,” Suedmeyer said.
Over the weekend the bear improved and took to his indoor pool. The vet team began reducing his meds.
By Wednesday, Wisthoff reported, Nikita wanted to go back outside. But after so many days in an air-conditioned area, officials did not want to expose him too soon to the heat.
Now the only question is whether Berlin, the zoo’s female polar bear, will welcome him back in the exhibit.
“She had the entire area to herself,” the zoo noted in a statement Thursday.