On Monday, 9 December 2013 polar bear, Giovanna, gave birth to two babies at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. The colour footage from surveillance cameras showed both births at close range – a global sensation.
The first polar bear cubs of 2013 in Europe were born at Hellabrunn. Seven-year-old Giovanna and 14-year-old Yogi are the twins’ parents. Both births were seen via the cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den on Monday, 9 December at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view in the best place to film the births and secondly, this is the first time that a polar bear birth has been filmed in colour worldwide.
The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a polar bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”
Curator, Beatrix Köhler, is impressed with the polar bear mum’s behaviour, “Our female polar bear, Giovanna, is caring for her twins very capably as if she were an experienced mother, but at seven years old she is actually a first-time mum!”
Christine Strobl, mayoress and a member of the zoo’s board of directors is also delighted, “The birth of polar bear cubs is definitely a highlight for any zoo and I am overjoyed that we are able to welcome two cubs at once.”
Timeline - the birth of Hellabrunn’s polar bear cubs:
9 December 2013, polar bear birthing den at Hellabrunn Zoo’s Polar World:
08:37: Giovanna walks down the corridor between the two dens. She bites one of her front paws to counteract the pain of a contraction. Then she moves out of camera view but then takes several steps back into frame.
08:39: View of Giovanna’s back. A polar bear cub slides onto the floor in a very speedy birth. It is about 20 centimetres long, hairless, smeared in blood, blind and deaf.
09:40: Giovanna pushes her back legs forcefully against the wall and her body shakes as she has a contraction.
09:43: A thin arm, a small head and then another arm come into view. Giovanna gives birth to a second baby. At this point she is so busy with her first born that she doesn’t attend to the second baby immediately. The little one is left to fend for itself for the next few minutes. It wriggles and turns round and is very active.
10:05: Giovanna notices something going on behind her. She turns her head and notices the second baby. She turns round and picks it up carefully in her mouth. Then she leans against the wall and lays it on her leg next to its older polar bear sibling.
22:40: The babies now resemble miniature polar bears. Giovanna has painstakingly licked them clean over the last few hours so that they are now bright white and dry. They are snuggling into mum’s warm coat and tumbling around on her chest. They’re already drinking her milk.
11 December 2013, two days after the birth: the polar bear twins are developing well. Giovanna is taking excellent care of them. They are both regularly drinking her milk. In between they are tumbling around on mum, Giovanna.