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Berlin Calls St. Paul Home Now, but what's Next?

Posted at: 11/20/2012 9:02 PM
Updated at: 11/20/2012 10:36 PM
By: Alan Hoglund
ahoglund@wdio.com

nullOne of the Northland's favorite animals, has made a new home for herself in St. Paul. Now about five months after Berlin made the move to the Como Zoo, Eyewitness News paid her a little visit.

Friday afternoon, a curious crowd filled a room outside the polar bear exhibit, with only glass separating them from the animals. "I don’t know. Is it going to jump in the water," asked a little boy, watching the three polar bears saunter around their pond.

As kids pressed up against the glass, zoo staff tossed marshmallows to the polar bears, seemingly miniscule compared to their tank-sized bodies.

Allison Jungheim, the Senior Zookeeper, imitated an inquisitive, dirt-covered Berlin, saying "she says ah, no, keep tossing them to me would you please?"

"[Berlin] has been remarkably mellow about everything," Jungheim said about Berlin's move to St. Paul. "She didn't act anxious. She took it all in stride."

June rains prompted Berlin's field trip, after her exhibit flooded at Duluth's Lake Superior Zoo. In addition to two now nationally known seals, Berlin got out of her exhibit the night of the flooding, and a veterinarian had to tranquilize her.

That marked the beginning of Berlin's polar bear vacation.

When Berlin arrived in the Twin Cities, Jungheim said "she just explored the whole exhibit. She checked everything out. She rolled in the dirt, and ran through the grass. It was really great just to see her explore."

When Berlin first showed up, Jungheim said it didn't take her long to get familiar with her new environment. She's living with two bigger, male polar bears but Jungheim said Berlin is a little bit bossy.

"She was definitely the boss of them when she first got out here."

Jungheim is referring Buzz, and Neil. The two even more massive bears are Berlin's roommates. They were named after the astronauts.

Jungheim said Berlin's bossy attitude hasn't been present lately, because she had surgery in October to remove dead tissue from her stomach, and to stop internal bleeding. That came after Jungheim said they found Berlin unresponsive, and after exploratory surgery.

Without the surgery, Jungheim said "there's a good chance that we could have lost her, and there was a chance she wouldn't recover from surgery as well."

Berlin's 23 years old, but now, Jungheim says Berlin is recovering well, and she's waiting for the return of Berlin's pushy attitude toward Buzz and Neil. "We hope when she regains her strength 100 percent she'll be back to pushing them around."

Back in Duluth, Peter Pruett, Lake Superior Zoo's Animal Management Director, said the staff there would love to see Berlin come back. But before that is a possibility, Pruett said a special species survival program would need to decide that Duluth is the best place for Berlin.

Meanwhile, flooding damaged Berlin's exhibit, which means the she will likely have no place to live unless the zoo builds her a new home. Building Berlin a new home is something Pruett said could be many years, and many millions of dollars away.

Pruett said the proposed project is pretty large, and could be done in phases. He is expecting a more firm estimate on the cost in the next couple weeks.