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Buffalo Zoo plans 'first date' for affectionate polar bears

It looks like love at first sight.

Luna and Sakari, the Buffalo Zoo's polar bears, spoon together when they sleep.

They gently play fight in the water. And they rarely want to be out of each other's sight.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Animals enjoy a winter day at the Buffalo Zoo]

So the zoo arranged the bears' "first official date" this Saturday. It comes on Valentine's Day weekend, with rose petals and heart-shaped ice treats to lend atmosphere. Bear "enrichment," including some keeper talks, will occur hourly from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"The bears are inseparable," said Malia Somerville, general curator. "They're showing interest, but they're not ready to go through the entire breeding cycle yet."

That's because the 4-year-olds are not quite sexually mature. That typically happens between ages 5 to 8, Somerville said.

Sakari takes an early morning walk at the Buffalo Zoo on Tuesday. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

But zoo officials are pleased that Luna, the hand-raised bear, and Sakari, who arrived from a Wisconsin zoo in November and made his public debut Jan. 1, have gotten along so famously since coming together a couple of weeks ago.

"We're really encouraged that they seem to enjoy each other so much," Somerville said. "Introductions went very smoothly."

Sakari, who weighs over 1,000 pounds, several hundred pounds more than Luna, is careful around the smaller bear, Somerville said.

The only time the bears are separated is when they eat their own meals. But as soon as they're finished, they want to get back together, she said.

"These are really positive signs that when they do become sexually mature, and hopefully are ready to breed, they will be receptive to each other and be able to have cubs, since our population of polar bears is declining so quickly," Somerville said.

A tell-tale sign the bears are ready to breed is when Luna starts to chase Sakari away, since it is natural polar bear behavior for males and females to separate.

If Luna does become pregnant, the bears would be kept apart so that Luna can go through pregnancy and birth without the stress of having Sakari around. It would also be safer for the cubs, too, as part of the natural rearing cycle.

But that's jumping ahead. For now, the bears are enjoying each other's company, zoo keepers are delighted and visitors are invited Saturday to watch the bears frolic in the cold.

The zoo's other arctic animals – the new arctic foxes, reindeer and lynx – are also being featured in February.

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