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Polar bear cub Kali is subject of children’s book

Kali, the orphaned Alaskan polar bear, has often played second fiddle to Luna, the cub born amid much hoopla at the Buffalo Zoo.

But he steps out as a star in his own right in the just-published children’s picture book, “Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue.”

The 31-page book contains numerous photographs of the cub, while avoiding mention that his mother was killed by a hunter unaware she had recently given birth. The cub spent three months at the Alaska Zoo, coming to Buffalo at five months of age in May 2013.

“It’s a very well-done book that helps children understand Kali’s plight in an age-appropriate way,” said Tiffany Vanderwerf, the zoo’s curator of education. “Teachers and parents can also take and create further activities with it,” she said, referring to the facts and exercises about polar bears at the book’s conclusion.

“We’re glad we’re the happy ending in the story, not the tragic early part,” said Donna Fernandes, the zoo’s president.

In the book, Kali can be seen lapping up a mixture of puppy formula and whipped cream from a bottle, and rolling around on his back. In one picture, he’s shaking water off his tousled coat; in another, he’s snuggling with a teddy bear.

Most of the pictures were taken at the Alaska Zoo; three photographs from the Buffalo Zoo are on the book’s last two pages.

“Kali’s Story” is published by Sylvan Dell Publishing, a small, Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based publisher that specializes in books meant to spark an interest in science. It was written by Jennifer Keats Curtis, with photographs by John Gomes, a longtime volunteer at the Alaska Zoo.

“We had a lot of fresh snow when Kali arrived, and a baby polar bear who’s inquisitive – well, you just couldn’t help wanting to take pictures,” Gomes said from his home in Anchorage.

“Polar bears are in the spotlight nowadays, and anything I can do to help the cause for not only our zoo but for the receiving zoo I’m glad to do. And, he’s just damn cute,” Gomes said.

Curtis came to know Gomes through another book she worked on about zoos, and they decided to work together on the book about Kali.

“For whatever reason, I really felt like this polar bear’s personality came through in these pictures. We loved the idea of this polar bear having a happy ending, and it all fell into place,” Curtis said.

So far she has only seen Kali in pictures, but that could change this summer.

“I’d love to come out your way. I do a lot of school visits during the school year, so maybe this summer, when I have a little time,” Curtis said.

The book reveals that Buffalo zookeepers sent one of Luna’s blankets to Kali so he could get used to her scent on the flight from Alaska, and recognize her when they met.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t made a long-term placement decision for Kali beyond the Spring 2015 extension announced in November. A number of zoos are building new polar bear habitats, and Kali could yet wind up in one of those.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer has played a leading role in making a case to the wildlife agency to keep Kali in Buffalo, and has said he intends to continue doing so.

Ground was broken last week on the $14 million Arctic Edge exhibit that will be the polar bears’ new habitat when it opens in the fall of 2015.

In the meantime, “Kali’s Story” will focus more attention on the bear cub and the odyssey that led him to Buffalo.

“Kali deserves his moment in the spotlight. He’s gone through a lot,” Vanderwerf said.