Wed, January 14, 2009
Lifestyle > Society > Funny animals

Just the bear necessities

2009-01-04 03:11:43 GMT2009-01-04 11:11:43 (Beijing Time)  China Daily

Three-month-old Taotao.

The ten-month-old Taotao at Laohutan Ocean Park.

Taotao and one of its keepers.Photos by Zhao Jingwei

Taotao, a 10-month-old polar bear sways and waves his paws in the air as if saying hello to his visitors. But behind the antics is a sad story.

Like Knut, the polar bear from Germany, Taotao was abandoned by his young mother shortly after birth, according to Li Li, a keeper at Laohutan Ocean Park in Dalian, Liaoning province.

Li says that Taotao is one of the first generation of polar bears born and raised in China since this rare species was introduced. He was in such a vulnerable condition at first that he had to be kept in a special incubator for weeks.

"We sat beside the incubator 24 hours every day to monitor his temperature and breathing, help his with urination and defecation, and even smell his waste to tell if he was healthy," Li says.

During the first few weeks, keepers had to wipe their hands and clothes with Taotao's diapers in order to smell familiar to Taotao, or it would not let keepers come close, according to Sun Shijia, one of Taotao's keepers at the park. As the days went by, Taotao grew more attached to its keepers.

"He sucked our fingers like a nursing infant and purred like a gentle cat being caressed," says Li Ping, another of Taotao's keepers.

Taotao often bit them tenderly, according to Li, a way of showing affection and happiness during play. Even so, the keepers' hands and arms were black and blue.

After meticulous care for 10 months, Taotao grew quickly from several hundred grams at birth to the present 35 kg. Sun says the helpless baby with light pink skin and fine soft hair has grown into a vigorous child with snow-white fur and an air of charming naivety.

Taotao swims in his special swimming pool every day. On hot days he lingers in the pool for hours, paddling in the water and splashing. Sometimes the keepers have no alternative but to carry him out, according to Li Ping.

There is a long story behind Taotao's birth.

Keeper Li says that Taotao's parents were from Finland and were presented by the Finland National Park as ambassadors of friendship between China and Finland in 2001, settling in Laohutan Ocean Park.

Taotao was not born for seven years. According to Li, the reason for this was that the male bear is 16 years old this year, or over 40 in human terms, while the female bear is only 9, still quite young, in comparison.

Taotao was born on March 9, 2008. Sun says the inexperienced mother was at a loss, confused by the birth of this poor little creature and left him on the cold ground.

Taotao survived, though, thanks to his human nannies, who spared no effort in taking care of him.

"We have given Taotao more care than our own children," Sun says.

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