The Kansas City Zoo’s male polar bear is leaving the $11 million exhibit he has called home for the past five years.
Nikita, the Arctic ursine, is headed to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro for breeding purposes.
The 8-year-old polar bear will leave at the end of the year, after his ninth birthday in November. Berlin, a 26-year-old female who arrived here in 2013, will remain.
Zoo officials said Wednesday that the transfer of the 1,200-pound animal is part of efforts to keep the species strong. Nikita will be paired with a 15-year-old female named Anana. That bear is higher on the list for breeding than Berlin, who is at or near the end of her reproductive years.
Placement of polar bears is determined by a species survival plan that is a cooperative agreement among North American zoos.
“We’re sad to see him go,” Kansas City Zoo director Randy Wisthoff told his board Wednesday. “But if we’re not making polar bear babies in zoos, we’re going to run out of them.”
Randi Meyerson, who coordinates the species survival plan for polar bears, thanked the Kansas City Zoo for giving Nikita a good home during his adolescence.
“We realize it is hard for these majestic animals to have to leave, but when polar bear cubs reach reproductive age it is really important that they be put in a breeding situation so that they can help the population grow,” Meyerson said in a statement.
Federal rules prohibit the importation of polar bears, even orphans. Anana came from Alaska.
The North Carolina Zoo recently expanded its polar bear exhibit with the goal of breeding cubs, said director David Jones.
Wisthoff held out hope that if Nikita sires a cub, it may one day end up in Kansas City.
Both Nikita and Berlin were born in Ohio zoos. Today, the two inhabit one of the newest exhibits at the Kansas City Zoo. They have mated but did not produce a cub.
Polar bears can live to their mid to late 30s in captivity, so Berlin is likely to be in Kansas City for some time.
Zoo officials also announced Wednesday that a pair of koalas will be a featured attraction at the zoo in the summer of 2016. In return, the Kansas City Zoo will donate funds to the San Diego Zoo’s Koala Education & Conservation Program.
The zoo also recently acquired two male warthogs and will soon add three more Humboldt penguins.