WANTAGE — While most businesses in the area remain shut down, employees of Space Farms Zoo and Museum are hard at work caring for the zoo’s many animals — a total that grew by two with the birth of a pair of Kodiak bear cubs earlier this year.
The new additions, one female and one male, are named Aurora and Boris (short for Borealis), a reference to the scientific name of the phenomenon commonly known as northern lights. Zookeeper Lori Space Day came up with the names because, as she put it, the cubs are “little bright lights” amid the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Space Day said Aurora and Boris are estimated to be about 10 weeks old, having been discovered at the zoo approximately four weeks after they were born. Hunter Space — who helps run Space Farms along with his father, State Assemblyman Parker Space, and grandfather, Fred Space — was the one who first heard the cubs’ cries while cleaning the dens of the zoo’s five other Kodiaks ahead of the spring season.
“He thought it was his cousin Justin's kids screaming in the background on the phone,” Space Day said as she played with the two cubs, “and then found out it was these guys.”
Space Day considers the cubs lucky that her nephew discovered them when he did. In the wild, she explained, a father bear will “destroy” his babies shortly after their birth, but she believes the unseasonably warm temperatures through much of the winter season played a factor in keeping them alive.
“I guess mom was able to keep dad out of the den,” Space Day said, “and it was so mild that dad said, ’Well, I'm not going to fight her.’”
Kodiak bear cubs weigh about eight ounces and are the size of a soda can at birth, Space Day said, but the newest Space Farms bears now weigh about 20 pounds. Zoo employees feed them a mixture of milk and dog food from a bottle four times each day, and once they reach adulthood, the omnivorous animals will rely on a diet of both plants and meat.
Like all Kodiak bear cubs, Aurora and Boris were born with white marks around their neck, called “natal rings,” which fade out by the time they are about three or four years old, Space Day said. A Kodiak’s fur gradually turns to more of a reddish color throughout its lifespan, which can be up to 25 years.
According to Fred Space, the zoo’s resident bear expert, the Kodiak is the largest species of bear in terms of weight. Full-grown bears of the species average about 1,000 pounds in the wild and can reach 1,500 pounds “with good food in captivity,” Space Day said.
Space Farms has experience with an exceptionally large Kodiak bear. According to a prior New Jersey Herald article, the zoo once held the Guinness World Record for the largest bear in captivity, a 12-foot-tall, 2,000-pound creature named Goliath.
The arrival of Aurora and Boris means there are now seven total Kodiak bears at Space Farms, though Sussex County will only be home to the cubs for a short time. Eventually, Space Day said, the young bears will be sent away as part of a genetic diversity program to avoid inbreeding among the zoo’s animals.
“These (cubs) will go to another zoo,” she said. “We put our feelers out. We don’t know exactly where they’re going quite yet.”
Kyle Morel can also be contacted on Twitter: @KMorelNJH, on Facebook: Facebook.com/KMorelNJH, or by phone: 973-383-1292.