The North Carolina Zoo's New Polar Bear Suitor Will Meet His Mate in Time For Valentine's Day

The North Carolina Zoo is playing Cupid with two of its animal inhabitants just in time for Valentine's Day.

Payton, a 1,000-pound, 17-year-old male polar bear who recently arrived from the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, is expected to meet his mate, 22-year-old Anana, next month right around the romantic holiday as part of the zoo's breeding efforts.

In a news release published on Friday, the zoo said that Payton will be introduced to Anana in the second week of February after he receives a clean bill of health from veterinarians. Anana was born at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, and arrived at the North Carolina Zoo in September 2014.

"The Zoo is hopeful the addition to the polar bear family will result in new offspring," the release read.

Payton is replacing Nikita, a 15-year-old male polar bear who arrived in 2016 and will be moved to Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City after failing to produce a cub with Anana after five breeding seasons, which typically take place between February and April. 

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommended Payton be moved to the North Carolina Zoo by using a science-based approach that matches bears under human care in an attempt to foster more cub births.

Currently, polar bears are listed as an endangered species with an estimated 22,000-31,000 bears remaining in the wild. That number is expected to decline 30% by 2050, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"Polar bear populations are declining, and zoos have a significant role in protecting the future of this vulnerable species," Jennifer Ireland, curator of mammals for the North Carolina Zoo, said in the zoo's news release. "When people see and learn more about polar bears and the effects of climate change in the Arctic, it brings awareness of their plight in the wild."

Polar bears typically live an average of 15 to 18 years, although biologists have tagged a few bears in their early 30s. Under human care, bears can reach their mid-30s, the zoo said.

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