It happens a lot in Ranua zoo in winter time

News about a new-born brown bear cub was told from Ranua zoo in the beginning of March. As predicted last spring, the brown bear Malla gave birth on January 8th, 2014. She stayed in her den for the hibernation period and breast-feeding the new-born female cub until March 31st, when the door was opened for her to come out. The zoo had put up cameras in the den so the birth late in the evening of January 8th could be seen by the staff in the next morning. This video is shown to all visitors to Ranua zoo as they arrive in the ticket office these days.

On March 31st Malla and the cub came out through the door and the cub met the world outside the den for the first time. The surrounding was all snow and the cub seemed a little anxious and it made a lot of voices. The video of the little cub can be seen here. Malla and her cub were kept in a smaller fence while the male bears Jehu and Palle-Jooseppi were out in a bigger fence. Malla also wanted out to the bigger fence and as she was let out there it happened she was stressed of the situation and abandoned her cub and run out and did not show any interest towards the cub any more. She acted even aggressively towards her cub and the staff at the zoo found it best to take the cub from her, for the safety of the cub. So at the moment the cub is fed by the staff of the zoo and will not be brought back to the mum any more. The mother will not recognize her own cub anymore and she will act aggressively towards a stranger. A name competition will be arranged on the home page of Ranua wildlife park to find a name for the little female bear. If everything works out fine, the cub can probably be seen in the zoo in the beginning of summer. These abandoning behaviors happened either because Malla was an unexperienced mother or due to other stress factors. In the nature she could even kill her cub, but that is now prevented by the decision to take the cub from her. Let us see how this will work out.

The father Jehu has woken up from the hibernation already and was anxiously waiting outside the den for Malla and the cub to come out to him***.


It is amazing how tiny a brown bear cub is at birth. You may think a big bear could give birth to a much bigger cub, but the newborn is really tiny and spends many weeks on mummy’s stomach, where it gets breast-fed, and kept warm in the warm fur of mummy. In the blog from Ranua zoo you can see for yourself the amazing video from the birth of the brown bear cub and also how it has grown during the first month. It is impossible to decide the sex of the cub until it comes out from the den.

In the wolverine fence you also find only the father Rasputin running around. The female wolverine Batsi has actually also given birth to two tiny wolverine cubs and is spending time with them inside an underground den breast-feeding. The wolverine cubs were born during the weekend on March 8-9 and were caught by a camera. The cubs weight around 100 g each. In the nature the wolverine gives birth inside a cavern made of snow. Last time there were wolverine cubs in Ranua was over 10 years ago, in 2003, so this is a very special moment and predicts a busy summer with a lot of interested visitors for the wildlife park.


Another thing that happens in the near future at Ranua zoo is that the two years old polar bear Ranzo is going to leave the zoo and move to the zoo Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria, in the beginning of May. In the zoo Schönbrunn they are building a new Polar bear world, Franz Josef Land, which will open in April. Ranzo will meet an adorable Polar bear girl, Lynn, also 2 years old, and they will hopefully be parents next year. Ranzo’s move to Vienna is quite natural, as his grandmother, Vienna, was born there. So he returns to his roots, so to say. Still Ranzo is happily unknown of his coming destiny playing with his toys in Ranua zoo.


This picture is of Ranzo and his mother last spring. IMG_1828

At the moment Ranzo is alone in his fence, while his mother Venus has moved over to his father Manasse’s fence and they are enjoying each others’ company at the moment. New polar bear cubs are of course expected next winter from these meetings. You can look at a video from their meetings also from the blog.


*** Unfortunately the brown bear Jehu found a way out from his fence to the freedom in the end of April 2014. The staff of the zoo has a special security plan for incidences like this regarding brown bears’, polar bears’ and muskoxes’ escapes and the only thing was to shoot the Jehu bear, to avoid danger to people outside the zoo. The brown bear Jehu never met the new cub.


Ranua zoo in winter

On a sunny day in winter a visit to Ranua zoo is really worth the effort. There are active arctic animals playing in the snow, not the least the polar bears, the wolverines, the wild boars, the wolves and the lynxes, which all are active winter animals. The snow makes it easy to find the animals; they have fewer possibilities to hide in a white surrounding. They seem to enjoy the sun in winter as much as we do.






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The brown bears are having their hibernating period and are sleeping. About two years ago there was a warm and sunny spring and the brown bears woke up on March 1st and started to play in the snow. Usually they wake up in the end of March. There is still snow on the ground in the end of March. This year I am very excited waiting for news about whether the brown bear Malla has given birth during the winter hibernation. The zoo is keeping an eye on the den where the brown bears are sleeping. Small brown bear cubs would really be a reason to visit the zoo again.



The zoo has plans to put together the two polar bear adults again if there could be more polar bear cubs. The very popular polar bear cub Ranzo, born in December 2011, is already a grown up and will probably be moved to another zoo in the near future. Ranua zoo simply does not have fences enough for many adult polar bears. Wild animals, like bears, are not very satisfied to share fences with others. There have been some disputes between bears in the earlier years, which have led to even one of the bear’s death, and this the zoo definitively does not want to happen.

You can get a whole new viewpoint to the animals by participating in the animal feeding shows, such as, by watching carnivores being fed. If you are lucky, you might get to feed animals yourself, instructed and monitored by the animal keepers. During the winter, between 17.2.2014 -9.3.2014 and 18.4.2014 – 21.4.2014, animal feeding shows are arranged daily. Check out the times on the home page. I do hope they will soon update it with this year’s dates….

There is also possible to stay overnight near the zoo, in the holiday village Gulo Gulo or at the caravan area. Check the homepage for more information.

In Finland there are three zoos open during winter time; Ranua zoo, Ähtäri zoo in the middle of Finland and Korkeasaari zoo in Helsinki.


Polar Bears in Ranua Wildlife Park

It is very rare for polar bears to give birth when they are in captivity, away from their natural freedom. The first polar bear cub ever surviving its birth in Finland was the greatest Christmas present in 2011 for the Ranua Wildlife Park, situated about 90 km south from Rovaniemi. Early in the morning on November 18th, 2011, the polar bear Venus gave birth to two tiny polar bear cubs. In the year 2009 the polar bears Venus and Manasse had a polar bear cub, too, who eventually died after a few days. But this time the cub survived and is now as a one year old polar bear one of the biggest attractions at Ranua zoo and his birth definitively was an enormous success for the wildlife park with a great increase in the number of visitors.

The first 24 hours after the birth are the most critical: one-third of the cubs die during this period. Half of the cubs die before they reach the age of five days, and after a month, only 40% of the cubs born are still surviving. In the earlier times, perhaps the greatest reason for the weakened reproduction for polar bears at various wildlife parks has been the amount of outer stimulus disturbing the mother polar bear, this disturbance eventually could cause the mother to abandon its cub or even kill the cub. At the Ranua Wildlife Park, therefore, they made early protection improvements in the polar bear den and the  surroundings to offer peace for Venus to give birth to her cubs. During the time of the pregnancy and also after the cub was born, they followed the progress through microphone recordings and surveillance video cameras installed in the den.

On February 23rd, 2012, the park decided to open the door to the den and let the polar bear mother and her cub out in the snowy world of their fence. The mother bear Venus had started to move around anxiously in the den as a sign that she probably would need some nutrition. She had not had anything to eat for nearly three months. A lot of journalists were attending this remarkable happening when the door was opened. First the mother bear came out and had a look at the weather outside and tested how secure it would be for the cub to enter, too. After a while even the little cub very carefully looked out from between the fore legs of the mother. At this time the park could announce that the cub was a male bear. His weight as this time was around 10 kg.

I went to Ranua zoo in March to try to get a glimpse of the cub. I was lucky, because I got the chance to see him. The mother and her cub very seldom came out from the den and not at any predictable time. The fence is very big and the visitors never got near the cub when he was only a few months old. Later on he started to move around in the fence and they were eventually even moved to another, bigger fence. The picture I captured in March 2012 shows the mother standing outside the den and the cub is to the right of her. Not a good photo, I admit, but better than nothing…

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There was a name competition arranged to find a suitable name for the little newborn cub. Around 10,000 suggestions were given and on September 3rd, 2012, as the result of the very careful and difficult elimination of the suggestions done by the jury consisting of the Ranua Wildlife Park staff, the name Ranzo was elected as the name for the very unique polar bear cub in Finland. The jury wanted the name to be suggestive of the birth-place of the cub, (the Wildlife Park of Ranua, Ranua Zoo) and, at the same time, the name needed to be internationally ”easy” as well.

The next time I visited the Ranua zoo was in October 2012 and Ranzo was already a “big” boy, around 80 kg. Both the mother and the cub were sleeping as I arrived, but after a while Ranzo started to wake up and strolled over to his mother to have some milk from his mother. The mother bear was still breast feeding the cub and right out there in the sun shine in front of some visitors.


After the meal Ranzo started to play around with the ice flakes on the little lake they have in their fence. They use to go swimming a lot, but at the time I was there they stayed on the shore and Ranzo was running around to find interesting things to play with. The staff of Ranua zoo provides the bears with different play toys, so he usually does not have any problems to find anything to do.


I have visited the Ranua wildlife park several times during the seven winters I have been in Lapland, and before Ranzo was born Venus used to play around together with her sister Vanessa in the pool to amuse the visitors. The two of them always enjoyed the audience to looked up at them as they threw around balls in the pool. Vanessa was moved to another zoo somewhere in Europe as Venus had her cub, because there are not enough fences to keep all of them The father Manasse is also living in his own fence in the zoo. He is not allowed to be with the mother and the cub, because a male polar bear does not have “fatherly” feelings and he could be dangerous to the cub and even kill it. In a couple of years there are plans to let Venus and Manasse have a try for more cubs, but at the moment Ranzo can enjoy the company of his mother Venus. Ranua wildlife park keeps a blog on happenings in the park, but mostly only in Finnish. Check it out here.

These photos are of Venus and Vanessa playing in spring 2008. IMG_4114IMG_1898

In Ranua Wildlife Park there are also a lot of other arctic animals. I will tell you more about them later on. Ranua Wildlife Park offers tourists and nearby inhabitants the opportunity to see arctic animals throughout the year, in an as authentic environment for the animals as possible. The Park is open every day of the year, and the changing seasons do bring their own extra dimension to the life in the park. During winter the brown bears are sleeping, of course, but there are a lot of animals active in winter time. Often they are even more active during the winter because the heat in the summer makes them slow and sleepy during the visitors’ hours. Check out the home page of the wildlife park for the special feeding times.

The park animals consist of about 50 wild animal species and 200 individuals. In the summer, there is also a domestic animal park in the park grounds.