Nikita discovers new sheriff in town: Berlin! - WNEM TV 5


Nikita discovers new sheriff in town: Berlin!

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    School children across the area delighted in the closing of schools but no Midwest residents enjoyed the snowstorms more than the Kansas City Zoo's polar bears, Nikita and Berlin.More >
    School children across the area delighted in the closing of schools but no Midwest residents enjoyed the snowstorms more than the Kansas City Zoo's polar bears, Nikita and Berlin.
    More >

She's 500 pounds of bossy but spunky fur while he's more than 1,000 pounds of bouncy loveable fun who is just dying to play with her.

But any playing clearly comes on her terms. The old gal has taught him what is her area of the pool and the young pup better keep his white tush far away when she's floating like a beary ballerina with a toy between her paws.

After a month of near 24/7 togetherness and two snowstorms, Berlin and Nikita aren't quite an old married couple, but the two polar bears are settling into a nice routine at the Kansas City Zoo. And along the way, they are burrowing and splashing their way into the hearts of many residents.

"It's progressing along very nicely," said Peter Pruett, director of zoo operations at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, MN, where Berlin spent most of her life. "She's allowing him to come closer to her. She has decided she doesn't have to boss him around every moment. She's even let her guard down and decided he might be an all-right fellow."

She is 23-year-old Berlin and he is 6-year-old Nikita. After her Duluth home was flooded last year, she spent time at a St. Paul zoo before three zoos and a national zoo organization decided it was in everyone's best interest to ship her south to Kansas City where there was a lonely bear needing a gal pal. The hope is that the two will mate and have a cub.

 "I never worried about Berlin. It was Nikita I worried about," Pruett said with a laugh. "We hope Nikita makes it through Berlin."

Weeks of "howdy sessions" occurred. Then on Feb. 6, Nikita and Berlin were allowed to roam Polar Bear Passage together for the first time.

Kansas City Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff said some of his zoo employees thought Nikita would be too aggressive and smother Berlin with love.

"I kind of expected it to go as it did," Wisthoff said. "As it happened in most species including humans, Mama was in charge. The minute they got together she pretty much let him know there's a new sheriff in town by the name of Berlin. It's her exhibit, her pool and her toys. If he treats her right, he's going to be allowed in."

The howdy sessions went so well that they are now given virtual 24/7 run of their home rather than being separated at night. Nikita appears to prefer sleeping outdoors in his sandy pit area that he loves while Berlin is heading indoors for her siestas where sometimes Nikita joins her.

After the first monster winter storm hit Kansas City on Feb. 21, Nikita dug himself a sleeping hole in his sandy pit while Berlin flopped out on her favorite sunny ledge. Both slept comfortably for hours.

The bears are separated at least once a day for feeding to ensure they are receiving a balanced diet.

There are times when they check each other out and show, dare we say, a slight defrost in their relationship. They seem to especially bond during the snowstorms.

After their initial clashes, the two have settled into patterns with each staking out favorite spots in the public area. Because Berlin isn't partial to the water, Nikita spends more time in  the pool where he occasionally swims up to Berlin on her rock in an attempt for attention. When she does leap in, she prefers to float and paddle in an area shunned by Nikita.

Wisthoff said Berlin failed to read the part in a polar bear manual about spending hours swimming like Nikita does.

"She doesn't like to get wet," he said.

"If you tried to give her the polar bear manual, she would just eat it," Pruett said with a chuckle.

But Pruett has been pleasantly surprised when he watches the Polar Bear cam on to see Berlin most days enjoying a swim, albeit brief.

"Berlin is definitely in the pool more," he said. "It is the clearest sign that she is extremely comfortable down there."

Pruett speculates that Berlin might like the bigger pool in Kansas City. She also may be discovering that Nikita is less likely to make her life miserable when she takes a dip. And it may be warmer here.

She certainly seemed to enjoy the recent snowstorms and rolled around like a puppy. The pictures of her rolling in the snow made headlines and were shown on the NBC Nightly News. Pruett said Berlin is used to a lot of snow in Minnesota and likely was happy to see it again.

She spent much of her life in Minnesota with a bear named Bubba who was an aggressive swimmer.

At least twice, Berlin was found at the bottom of the moat surrounding the bears' exhibit in Duluth. The theory is that Bubba shoved her out of the exhibit while he was in the water, and that may explain her reluctance to spend considerable time in the water.

"Bubba was very active in the pool. Because of that, she shied away from the pool. We would try every trick in the book to get her in the pool, but she is not a very active pool user for a polar bear. She does not use the pool much at all," Pruett said.

During her first day at the public exhibit in Kansas City, Berlin quickly explored the pool. She sometimes leaps after her favorite toy floating in the water or dives in to take a toy from Nikita. Berlin is a graceful swimmer who makes few waves, while Nikita churns up the water so much it can freeze the Polar Bear Cam. She tends to float for just a few minutes before popping out while he can do laps for hours.

While in St. Paul, Berlin did enjoy a 4' wading pool where she would sit on a window ledge and dangle her feet in the water.

Her fans in Minnesota haven't forgotten Berlin. Residents from the state keep up with Berlin via the Sonic Polar Bear Cam on The Duluth New Tribune even published an article last week when the two came paw-to-paw. A second article followed about her snowy frolicking.

 "She is still our bear and always will be," Pruett said. ""She is a multi-city, multi-state bear."

Berlin was born in Ohio as a certain wall in Germany was coming down. She was named in honor of that momentous event in November 1989.

When she was just a year or 2 years old, she moved to the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth. The zoo had a male bear named Bubba who was near Berlin's age.

But their relationship was not harmonious with Bubba being aggressive toward Berlin.

"Bubba was the boss up here," Pruett explained.

Bubba died in 2010 and Berlin was alone. Nikita, who also was born in Ohio, came to the Kansas City Zoo in 2010.

Fate and a temper tantrum from Mother Nature brought the two bears together. In June, a tremendous storm dumped so much rain on the zoo that animals escaped and some died. Water rose up 14 feet and Berlin was able to swim out of her exhibit. She was dangerously close to the rushing floodwaters of a nearby creek when a zoo employee was successfully able to tranquilize her.

She and two seals, who had also gotten loose, were shipped south to the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, where zoo officials had agreed to take the animals in the emergency situation.

Allison Jungheim, senior keeper and training coordinator for the St. Paul zoo, remembers Berlin's arrival.

"She is extremely adaptable. She took everything in stride. We moved her in the middle of the night and the next morning she was like, 'oh, hey, how's it going?' She started training right away. She didn't show any signs of anxiety. She rolls with everything. She is just amazing," Jungheim said. "She was good about everything."

St. Paul has twin polar bears, Neil and Buzz, who are tight and often snuggle together. Neil especially was quite willing to play with Berlin, but she was a bit standoffish with both the boys. And just as she bosses Nikita around by taking his toys, Berlin made her presence felt quickly in St. Paul.

"Berlin would push Neil out of his favorite spot to sleep," Jungheim said.

She also loved to roll in the dirt and grass and play with her favorite toys during her time in St. Paul.

Because Como's bears were both neutered, ultimately the three zoos and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums made the decision to send Berlin to Kansas City where the zoo and area residents wanted Nikita to have a sidekick. The move occurred in December.

Jungheim watched with great interest Nikita and Berlin's first interactions in February, and she wasn't surprised at all by how it went.

"She is a bossy girl," Jungheim said."She had a history of a male that was very aggressive."

Berlin eventually settled into a routine with Buzz and Neil, and Jungheim expects the same in Kansas City.

"They got to the point of mutual agreement," she said. "I am assuming she will with Nikita once the initial anxiety passes. I think he will do really well."

Berlin is a mixture of strong willed and sweet.

"She was kind of her own boss. She is definitely a spunky little girl," Pruett said. "We always look at her as the little bear that could."

Wisthhoff agreed.

"I think she is a very nice, sweet bear. She is curious."

But she can be aloof at times, Pruett said.

"She can be extremely stubborn," Pruett said. "She reminded me a little bit of a cat or tiger. If she didn't want to do something, she didn't do it."

Nikita has been quite curious about his new companion, but he seems to grasp the limits as to how far he can push her. Berlin is just playing a little hard to get, Pruett theorized.

"She's a sports car where he's a big semi that if you get going fast enough nothing is going to stop him," Pruett said.

Wisthoff concurred.

"He is just like a teenage boy. He runs hard and plays hard," Wisthoff said.

And then he crashes and naps hard.

"He is just a ol' gentle puppy dog, but he would eat you if you went in with him. He loves to do training. He is very social," Wisthoff said.

Interest in the two bears had driven up attendance at the zoo and page clicks at

"The interest level has been absolutely phenomenal. He has been a rock star in his own right. People just love him," Wisthoff said. "People already love Berlin and have pretty much taken her in."

And Wisthoff and Pruett are confident that the two bears are going to do just fine with each other with Berlin controlling the relationship's progression.

 "I think eventually they will come to terms," Pruett said. "As long as Nikita realizes Berlin knows best, he will be all right. It will be a perfect relationship."

In between keeping Nikita on his toes, Berlin finds time to tweet via her old stomping grounds in Duluth. Check out her tweets at

She and Nikita also found time to put together a cute PSA video from the "Animal Heart Association" about how to give proper CPR to a human or animal if you are a polar bear. Go to to watch.

And you can always watch them at Tell us what you love about watching the two polar bears and their relationship. Have you seen them yet at the zoo? Go to KCTV5's Facebook page. Click here.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.


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