My Very Emotional Encounter With A Polar Bear Named Kali
Kali at the St. Louis Zoo
I Will Begin At The Beginning
When I was twenty-two years old, my very best friend was on her way to pick me up for class at University of Windsor. She had moved about forty-five minutes south with her husband, and she was commuting to school for classes. I was subletting her house. To make a very sad and tragic story short- she died on her way to pick me up in a horrible car accident. I did the eulogy at her funeral, and her death had a profound influence on me. I guess her absence from my life was simply strange, and the tremendous injustice to the situation left me severely angry, confused, and extremely depressed.
Carrie was a really cool person. I wish I could say that she was a kind, giving, and loving person- but to be honest if she were, I probably wouldn't have been her friend, LOL Carrie was fiercely protective of those she loved, she was an avid tom boy, she cussed like a sailor and she and I got along famously because we were so much alike.
Of all the things in life she loved the most, they were- in this order:
1) Her husband
2) Her sisters and family
3) Polar Bears
4) The song 'Wonderful Tonight' which she had engraved on her wedding ring
Our Trip To The Zoo
My husband, son and I decided to make the jaunt from Kansas City to St. Louis on July 4th weekend. Our plans were to goof off and go to the zoo. We went to the zoo on Saturday, and on the way there, 'Wonderful Tonight' by Eric Clapton came on the radio. I said 'Oh, Carrie's song- she'd love the polar bear exhibit.' Kali had been at the zoo for not even one month after being transferred from Buffalo. She was an orphaned cub that was saved by the Department of Wildlife and recently the Buffalo handlers were told that Kali (pronounced 'Culli') was being transferred to a permanent home in St. Louis.
Well- the oddest thing happened when we got the the polar bear exhibit. Kali locked eyes on me as you can see in the first picture. There had to have been 150 people cramming to see the bear, but I felt like he was looking at me- and my husband and son were awe struck. The bear jumped in the water and swam to me and put his paw on my hand! He kept putting his face up to me and when everyone was screaming at me to let them have their turn, it was like the world was tuned out and the only people in it were the bear, and me. My husband said it brought tears to his eyes because it was so obvious that I was connecting with the bear. The crowd eventually stopped shoving and watched in awe as this bear was seemingly trying to talk with me through the glass. When I walked backward, the bear put his face in the corner until he could no longer see me. A child covered the bear's face and he then stood up to see me. My son was a little freaked out- but I feel like I had a beautiful experience.
Video of Kali first swimming up to me
Kali and Me Interacting
Since we've been together, my husband and I have never been in a car accident before. On the way home from the zoo on 1-70 Westbound, a retread flew off of a semi and crushed our hood and windshield. My husband was driving and despite the 'balls to the wall' traffic, he managed to keep in control. We all could have been killed so easily. I felt like maybe the Polar Bear protected my family and me from getting hurt. I know that sounds stupid, I am not a religious person, but I felt a strong connection to the bear and I felt that my friend Carrie was my guardian angel that day.
About Polar Bears
Polar bears live in the circumpolar north in areas where they can hunt their primary prey, ice seals. They are found in Canada (home to roughly 60% of the world's polar bears), the U.S. (Alaska), Greenland, Russia, and Norway.
The polar bear Range States have identified 19 populations of polar bears living across the Arctic.
A polar bear's home range can be enormous, far greater than that of any other species of bear. A polar bear's home range can be 300 times the size of a brown bear's. The size of a polar bear's range depends on a number of factors, including habitat quality and how much food is available there. Polar bears in food-rich areas have smaller home ranges.
Polar bears respond to seasonal changes in the distribution of seals and sea ice. Cubs learn about these patterns during the time they spend with their mother. Young polar bears may travel more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) to set up a home range apart from their mother's.
Of all the animals that indigenous people traditionally hunted, Nanuq, the polar bear, was the most prized. Hunters considered Nanuq to be wise, powerful, and 'almost a man.'
In parts of the Arctic, indigenous people still hunt the polar bear as part of a subsistence lifestyle and long-held cultural traditions; these hunts are now carefully regulated by various management systems. This is what happened to Kali, my friend at the St. Louis Zoo. Her mother was killed by an indigenous person and the cub was handed over to the Wildlife Foundation to be raised, otherwise the cub would have died.
Indigenous communities eat polar bear meat and use the fur to make warm trousers for men and kamiks (soft boots) for women. The liver is the only part of the bear that is traditionally discarded. It can make even sled dogs violently ill due to its toxic levels of Vitamin A.
In the past, hunters paid respect to Nanuq's spirit by hanging the skin in an honored place in their home for several days. If the bear was male, the hunter offered its spirit tools such as knives and bow-drills; if female, the hunter offered knives, skin-scrapers, and needle cases.
Legend says that if a dead polar bear was treated properly by the hunter, it would share the good news with other bears so they would be eager to be killed by him. Bears would stay away from hunters who failed to pay respect.
Other legends told of strange polar-bear men that lived in igloos, walked upright, and were able to talk. In these legends, the bears shed their skins in the privacy of their homes.
I find these stories fascinating.
The lady at the zoo was telling us that polar bears have hollow hair so that the cold and ice can easily penetrate their hair in the shafts to cool them off. When you go into the zoo, the polar bear area is freezing.
Neat Documentary on Polar Bears
What About You?
Have you ever made a personal connection with a wild animal?
Thank you for reading my very personable and incredible experience!
Very Special Update
For my birthday this year, my husband and son bought me a 'Pandora' charm of a polar bear for my charm bracelet. But, even better- they adopted Kali for me! I now have my name on a plaque at the zoo and I am one of the proud parents of Kali the polar bear at the St. Louis zoo. I couldn't be more proud, touched, and overwhelmed!!