The Story of Kali, St. Louis Zoo’s Polar Bear

An incredibly cuddly cub has been melting even the coldest hearts in photos from the Alaska Zoo: a happy ending to a story that started under an unfortunate circumstance. James Tazruk, an Inupiaq subsistence hunter, aimed his rifle at a lone polar bear high up past the Arctic Circle in Alaska's North Slope region in Point Lay. He fired from 100 yards away: a direct hit. The man walked over to the body, turned it over and saw that she had been nursing. Grief-stricken, the man realized he killed a mother and created an orphan. "It was just very unfortunate that it had to be a mamma," said James Tazruk, an Inupiaq subsistence hunter. Tazruk followed tiny animal footprints in the snow to a den where he found an 18-pound, 3 to 4 four-month-old cub March 12, 2013. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to take you home," Tazruk told the bear. "Just don't bite me."

Tazruk brought the pint-sized polar bear back to his hometown of Point Lay on a snow machine, where the cub spent one night at the police hall. The villagers named him Kali (pronounced CUL'-lee), the Inupiat word for their town. The next day, Kali was taken to the city of Barrow for a physical and finally to his temporary home at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage; Kali was turned over to USFWS biologists. This is where he remained until transferred to New York's Buffalo Zoo, still under the care of Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) until it was decided that Kali's permanent home would be at the St. Louis Zoo.

Kali arrived in St. Louis May 2015 from New York and remained in quarantine until June, to allow him time to adjust to his new surroundings. The St. Louis Zoo's new 40,000 square foot polar bear exhibit includes a 50,000 gallon salt water pool, a sandy beach, a rocky coastline and an area of grassy tundra. Zoo visitors are are now able to view Kali swimming underwater and watch him on land from multiple viewing areas. This enclosure was designed to house up to five bears. “We’d love to have an adult pair here,” Steve Bircher, the zoo's curator of mammals, said. “And if we do get a recommendation to breed in the future, we’ve designed the facility to be able to accommodate that.”

In addition to zoos helping to maintain vulnerable species, Bircher said they play an important role in environmental education. “People love polar bears,” Bircher said. “We want people to understand what the polar bear represents." That is, climate change and its impacts. "Polar bears are declining in the wild, and it’s because of the loss of sea ice.” Bircher said he hopes that visitors will walk away from seeing Kali with a new understanding of the threats facing polar bears — and what they can do to help. “That, yes, there is something that we can do to reduce our carbon footprint.”

- Sources, Quotes & Clips:
St. Louis Zoo
St. Louis Public Radio
Daily News