Will 1,000-pound hunk of polar bear warm Luna's heart? - The Buffalo News

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Will 1,000-pound hunk of polar bear warm Luna's heart?

Has Luna found her Romeo?

Sakari, the Buffalo Zoo's newest polar bear -- and Luna's potential suitor -- will be unveiled New Year's Day when the gates open at 10 a.m.

Visitors will be in for a surprise: Sakari is huge. The 4-year-old weighs nearly 1,000 pounds -- several hundred pounds more than Luna, also 4. And he is still growing.

The adolescent bear came to Buffalo Nov. 22 from Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisc., part of a three-bear transfer recommended by the American Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Species Survival Plan.

"I think it's safe to say that over the course of the next couple of years, they will be getting through that sexual maturity phase," said Todd Geise, the zoo's director of marketing. "This is all part of a breeding recommendation, and there is every expectation that they will meet, get along and at some later time magic will happen."

The two bears haven't met yet, but they can smell each other. They are slowly being introduced as Sakari grows comfortable with his new surroundings, said Lynn Hougle, a zookeeper who works with sea lions, otters and polar bears.

Polar bears have been one of the most popular attractions at the zoo. (It's no accident Coca-Cola uses the white furry bears in advertising at this time of year.)

Sakari is the fourth polar bear in buffalo in the past 4 years.

First came Luna. She was born in November 2012. After being unveiled to the public the following March, the popular cub became the face of a fundraising campaign to build the new $14 million Arctic Edge exhibit and $4 million entrance.

Kali joined Luna six months later. The orphaned male cub from Alaska became a playmate of Luna's and the subject of a children's book in 2014. But he left Buffalo the following year for a new polar bear exhibit at the St. Louis Zoo.

Anana, Luna's mother, returned to Buffalo last spring after a two-year breeding project at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and left fro the Cincinnati Zoo in November as part of the AZA's recommended three-way breeding transfer.

Now comes Sakari, who is expected to stay awhile at the zoo.

"The Buffalo Zoo is proud to be part of such a major undertaking," Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes said in a statement. "It is incredibly important that we continue to work together to help save this vulnerable species."

The zoo will celebrate Polar Bear Days in January and February by offering $5 admissions. The Arctic Edge and the indoor Rainforest Falls were suggested by Geise as go-to places this winter.

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