FOUR thousand, three hundred miles is a long way to travel for a blind date.
But keepers at Chester Zoo hope the arrival of Bernardo the spectacled bear from Oklahoma will leave resident female Franka lovestruck.
It’s crucial the pair hit it off to help ensure the species avoids extinction in the wild.
Tim Rowlands, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said: “Bernardo arrived safely and is spending time exploring his new home. Both he and Franka are finding ways of getting to know each other – and that may involve a little bit of rough and tumble – but they’ll soon settle down.
“An exchange of animals between the USA and Europe doesn’t happen very often at all. That makes the arrival of Bernardo even more special.
“The co-ordinator of this breeding programme chose him as an ideal genetic pairing for Franka and so that has been the driver for bringing him across the Atlantic. Spectacled bears are a species that is vulnerable to extinction and so we hope this pair will produce cubs in the future.”
As a species spectacled bears are classed by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as being vulnerable to extinction in the wild.
To ensure Bernardo was made as comfortable as possible during the 4,300 mile journey, a specially designed, purpose-built crate was made in Deeside in north Wales before being flown over to Tulsa Zoo.
Mr Rowlands added: “Bringing an animal over from the USA is logistically very difficult and it’s vitally important that the animal has a suitable temperament. I went over to Tulsa last year to see Bernardo and spend some time with him and he’s a very nice, calm young male.
“We also have one of the largest spectacled bear enclosures in the world and so we were top of the list when it came to choosing Bernardo’s new home.”
He added: “Spectacled bears are, by and large, a mysterious species and not a great deal is known about them. But by working closely with him here, we hope our keepers will learn new things and be able to relay that information to our conservation partners in the wild – information that could be very useful indeed in terms of ensuring the bears’ long-term survival.”
Last year the zoo funded a project in Peru investigating the foraging behaviour of spectacled bears. The project ultimately aims to ensure the conservation of the species in the dry forest habitat of northern Peru through scientific research and education, while working collaboratively with private land owners and rural communities to improve their social and economic wellbeing.