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Mike Creger, Forum News Service, Published February 06 2013

Duluth polar bear shows new Kansas City mate she's no pushover

Berlin, Duluth’s 23-year-old traveling polar bear, was introduced to her potential mate at the Kansas City Zoo for the first time on Wednesday.

That was the second momentous event for Berlin this month. She was also listed in KC Magazine’s annual list of 100 “influential people.”

Yes, that’s an odd distinction for an animal, especially for one that arrived in town less than a month ago.

“Berlin has just caught fire in this town,” said Randy Wisthoff, CEO of the Kansas City Zoo.

Berlin’s pairing with Nikita, a 6-year-old male polar bear with his own celebrity following at the zoo, has people flocking to see them, Wisthoff said.

On Wednesday, the two were let loose in their exhibit for the first time after a few weeks of sniffing each other from behind mesh barriers. The goal is for the two to mate and produce cubs.

“Today was speed dating,” Wisthoff said.

Berlin was definitely in charge, he said.

The two did some typical “chuffing” at each other, and then Nikita found out that getting to know the polar bear from the North will take a while.

Berlin chased him into the pool. She got one of his toys and wouldn’t give it back. She took a swat at him when he tried to get close after a nap.

Peter Pruett, the Lake Superior Zoo’s director of operations, watched the interaction on a webcam Wednesday.

“It sure makes her being in Kansas City a lot easier,” he said.

He and his staff enjoyed watching Berlin show her prowess over the younger Nikita.

“He knows who’s in charge,” Pruett said.

“He’s twice her size, but that didn’t mean much,” Wisthoff said. “Berlin is one of those bears with an attitude.”

Berlin was sent to the Como Zoo in St. Paul after the June flood in Duluth.

There, she roomed with two neutered male bears. Eventually it was decided that she should be sent where she might breed.

It’s important because the numbers of captive and wild bears is dropping, Pruett said. It’s ideal to keep captive populations increasing without pulling wild bears into zoos.

“Berlin is an important animal ambassador,” Pruett said.

She is on the elder cusp of breeding age, so a litter of cubs would be pretty special, he said.

Berlin’s popularity is no surprise, Pruett said. “We always knew that about her. She’s our little bear that could.”

You don’t have to tell Wisthoff about that down in Kansas City. He got bumped off that “influential” list because of the public fascination with the courting bears.

He’ll take the gate. More than 1,300 people visited the zoo in anticipation of the bears meeting muzzle to muzzle.

“Not bad for a Wednesday in the middle of winter,” Wisthoff said.

Regular attendance would have been 200 to 300 people. He expects more today as the bears are expected to spend all day together.

“It’s really great to have marquee animals,” he said.