How I became Qannik’s playmate

Aug 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Alaska

18.8.2011 by Patrick Lampi, Photos by John Gomes

4/26/2011 I received a call from Susi Miller & Craig Perham with USF & WS at approximately 10:45am. A polar bear cub had been seen alone near the Alpine camp on the North Slope of Alaska . ConocoPhillips employees had been observing the lone cub from 4:30 pm on 4/25 till 1:00 AM on 4/26 when fog moved in and they lost track of it. The first option was to reunite it with its mother. If the mother could not be found and If Management Authority chose to bring the cub into captivity “Would the Alaska Zoo send two staff members (veterinarian and a experienced handler) to assist in catching the cub, assess condition and transport to Alaska Zoo for transition care?”. Which I agreed to do after consulting with Dr. Riley Wilson.

Dr. Wilson and I have worked together with 45 orphaned bear cubs, of the three species, over the past 25 years. They said they would keep us posted. They decided to bring us up and booked us on the combined services flight to Deadhorse, Alaska at 3pm. We rounded up appropriate gear:

· Kennel, throw net, catch pole, blankets; towels, ingredients for formula (esbilac and whipping cream) small vet kit, iv fluids, gauntlet gloves,

· Personal gear and arctic weather gear.

We arrived in Dead Horse at 5pm and were taken to a hotel. Efforts were being made to locate the cub with helicopters, ground support and FLUR mounted on otter aircraft, but fog was hampering efforts. Fog interfered for 14 hours the first day. I offered to be a extra set of eyes on any flight going out looking.

We were kept updated as we waited at the hotel. When the cub was not seen by the afternoon of April 27th they decided to send us back to Anchorage and we departed that evening. The chances of a lone cub surviving another night of -28 degree wind chill were not very good. We left the ingredients for the formula with ACS (Alaska Clean Seas) just in case the cub was found.

At 1:30am of Friday the 29th I received a call from Craig, the cub had been seen again and they were making a determination on if they should intercede. The decision was made to capture the cub. I spoke with the Environmental Tech at ConocoPhillips on how to catch the cub, and how to prepare the formula. They were successful and requested us to fly up, determine the condition of the cub, transport it back to Anchorage and care for the cub until 1. A permanent home was selected by USF & WS. It was in good physical and mental condition. Permits and transportation were arranged.

Riley and I were on the noon flight up to Kuparuk. By the time we arrived they had been able to feed the cub twice. She was small and thin but in stable condition. We were all transported to Dead horse in time to catch the 5pm flight back to Anchorage. Upon arrival in Anchorage we were met and escorted back to the Zoo by several members of USF, WS and USGS. The cub received an examination on arrival by Veterinarians from both agencies. The young female was 15.5 lbs. on arrival. The average weight of cubs in that area at that time of year should have been around 30 lbs. I sat with her till around 1:00am and gave her 2 more feedings. I then went home for a few hours for a shower and to eat.

She is putting on approximately 1 lb. a day here and doing very well. Where and when the cub will leave has not been determined. We are also discussing the possibility of public viewing while here. Due to their status as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act the USF and WS is being very cautious in permitting this, as they should be. The health and well being of the cub is the most important consideration.

Qannik arrived at the Alaska Zoo; she was underweight but healthy and feisty.

How she felt about people was probably a low opinion of us (I would never claim to be able to know what is exactly on an animal’s mind). Her first impression would have been from being immobilized, along with ear piercing and lip tattooing. This was when she, her mother and sister were caught up for census and scientific information gathering by USGS on April 15th. It is highly unlikely that this capture event had anything to do with her separation from her mother since it occurred approximately 2 weeks earlier.


Qannik was eager when it came to feeding time. The formula that we have used for many years is a combination of puppy milk replacer, heavy whipping cream (to increase fat content), cod liver oil, soaked polar bear nuggets, rice and banana and diced up salmon filet. She put weight on at the rate of approximately 1 pound per day. Otherwise she was not too sure about trusting us. I have spent similar amounts of time with other cubs and had quicker results in gaining their acceptance. She was slow to come around. I always just sit down in the den area across from them (for an hour or two at a time) and let them come to me when they are ready.


It took several days before she decided to tolerate me as a play mate. If orphan cubs come in with siblings I do not feel it is as important to take on the role as a play mate. But given the degree that cubs play with their siblings and mother, I have always felt it is good for a single orphan to get that exercise and have some companionship.

Fearful charges and swats were replaced with playful wrestling. When we moved to sessions in the outdoor pen there was a lot of new area and items to explore. Again, I would just go kneel down off to the side and let her decide when she wanted to explore on her own and when she wanted some playtime.


At times she was able to watch a 17 month old orphan brown bear cub named Izzy. Their outdoor areas were separated by fences ten feet apart. Izzy was close to 200 lbs and very active and playful. The photos attached are in mid June. Qannik and I were watching Izzy play and then took a break lying on top of the sand hill. She gave me a quick glance and then went back to watching the other bear.


The remainder of her time here was great and I appreciate the opportunity in life to have shared some moments with this amazing animal.

Patrick S. Lampi
Executive Director
Alaska Zoo


The Alaska Zoo

Photos of Qannik by John Gomes

Qannik in the Louisville Zoo, Kentucky

U.S Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S Fish & Wildlife Service – Official directory

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  1. Dear Patrick,

    Thank you so much for telling us about the rescue of Qannik and also about her days in the Alaska zoo!

    I understand now that earning the trust of a little cub isn’t as easy as one might think. You became friends and playmates anyway and I’m sure you had a wonderful time together. Qannik is now a ‘tough’ curious girl who eagerly examines her new surroundings. You did a great job with her!

    Greetings from Mervi

  2. Dear Patrick!
    Thank you for this interesting and touching story. I wish Quannik a long and happy life.
    Greetings from Ludmila

  3. Dear Patrick S. Lampi

    Thank you for sharing the story about Qanniks rescue and the first time in the Zoo.

    You really gave her a good start in her new life.

    Best wishes

  4. Dear Patrick,

    Your story is truly marvelous! It is heart warming to read how this little cub was saved and brought up by you and your team! She seems to be a very active and healthy young lady now thanks to your commitment and her personality! Success stories like this one are always good reads!


  5. Mr. Lampi:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with Qannik with all of us. How wonderful to be able to spend time with such a magnificent animal and to know that, in addition helping in her rescue and caring for her physically, you played such an important role in her early socialization- which is no doubt responsible in many ways for the acceptance she seems to show her new caretakers in Louisville.

    Thank you for giving this beautiful little girl a chance, and for helping her on her way toward what we all hope will be a long and happy life.

    Best wishes to you and all at Alaska Zoo,

  6. Dear Patrick,
    thank you so much for sharing ‘your time together with Qannik’ with all of us. You taught her so much she needs for her further life in captivity. You became her first human friend and playmate, then you had to let her go to Louisville.

    She is now a very selfconfident little polar bear heading a hopefully happy and healthy life in her new home. I am sure she will never forget her first human friend.

    You did a great job for this little girl. Thank you so much for all your efforts. Louisvill Zoo can be very proud to offer her a nice accomodation.

    Greetings to you and your team in Alaska Zoo


    Dear Mervi,
    thank you so much for making this lovely and interesting publication possible.
    Hugs and greetings to you, too.

  7. Dear Patrick Lampi
    To read your above KWM-contribution was the best way to start the day. THANK YOU. Your description of how QANNIK was found and of how you got in first and then closer contact with her is more exciting and touching than any criminal story or novel can be. // Again I found at least two sentences, which are worth to be repeated as to my humble opinion:

    “The health and well being of the cub is the most important consideration.”
    “…(I would never claim to be able to know what is exactly on an animal’s mind)…”

    This should be written in any textbook for keepers, zoo directors AND zoo visitors!
    What a pity there is no chance at all for it –
    but I am near to convinced you, PATRICK LAMPI, FIRST ‘foster father’ of QANNIK and
    THOMAS DÖRFLEIN, ‘foster father’ of KNUT would have become tight friends (!?),
    had you ever had the chance to meet each other!

  8. Dear Patrick,
    thank you so much for this first-hand-report of Qannik’s rescue.
    Oh my, she really is a tough little lady, istn’t she? So small and surviving so many days (and nights!) under those circumstances before she was recued ~ what a fight she had to fight for her live. Thank you for rescuing this live because every live is precious and worth trying to save it IMO.
    *pawaves* Velvet

    Dear Mervi,
    thank you so much for that connection *hugs*

  9. Dear Mr. Patrick Lampi!

    Thank you so much. You and your team are making wonderful job.
    I hope Qannik will be have happy, long and healthy life in Louisville Zoo.

    Greetings from Finland


  10. Dear Patrick Lampi,

    thank you so much for the heartwarming story about Quannik’s rescue.
    I wish Quannik all the best in Louisville Zoo.

    Greetings from Germany

  11. Dear Patrick,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with Qannik.
    What an awesome experience–and clearly you and your team
    are experts…I bet she misses you!
    Thank you for taking such good care of her…she’s a gem.


  12. Dear Patrick

    What a heartwarming story in these troubled times. Sadness about the fate of Qannik’s
    mother and sibling, but a rousing story of hard work and love for these superb animals.

    Your efforts have brought us all this wonderful young lady

    Thank you and all the best in your work for the future


  13. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  14. Dear Patrick

    Thank you so much for the story of Qanniks rescue. she is such a wonderfull polarbeaar girl

    Many greetings

  15. Dear Patrick,

    You and your team can be very proud of having rescued 45 orphaned bears! Thank you so much for sharing the story of Qannik’s rescue with us. You have given her a great start in her captive life and I am sure her experience with you has blotted out the initial capture and tagging experience. I especially like your method of sitting quietly with a cub and letting it come to you on its own terms — that shows a lot of patience and savvy. I look forward to more articles from you on your experiences. For Qannik, I wish a long and happy life.

    Greetings from Sarsam in Massachusetts

  16. Dear Patrick,

    thank you so much for saving polar bear Quannik’s life. You´ve done a very great job in Alasca Zoo !

    Greetings vom Brigitte

  17. Dear Mr. Lampi,

    Thank you for sharing the story of your time with Quannik with us! I’m certain this must have been a great and wonderful experience.

    Kind regards,

  18. Dear Patrick,
    You made such a differene in Quannik’s life! Not only were you her caretaker, you were also her friend and playmate. Thank you for dedicating your lifes work to all the bears! You are a noble man and I hope you get to go to Louisville and visit her in the future. Thank you for sharing your story. You know you are in the good company with all of us here. We place you in our hearts with Thomas Dorflein. Thank you again and God Bless! We would love to hear of future “beary happenings.”
    Eva Gregory

  19. Dear Patrick

    Thank you for your heartwarming story about Quanniks rescue!
    We all fell in love with this beautiful polarbear girl. 🙂
    You did a very good job in Alaska Zoo.

    Best greetings

  20. Dear Mr.Patrick Lampi,

    ohh! Mon Dieu! what an exiting report about saving Qanniks life and caring for the health of the little cute polar bear princesse Qannik.
    Having seen the first pictures of you and Qannik and those nice little videos, made by John Gomes, I fell in love with that curious,funny ,but even tough little princesse ,who lost her Mom and sister and now had to go on all alone……like our missed Knut had to do. Since our Majesty ! KNUT had gone so suddenly ,I felt very sad and couldn`t even look at other polar bears without tears in my eyes.`

    But then the charming and beautiful princesse Qannik ,who would have been the right princesse for our KNUT ,appeared and put again a smile on my face ,and brought so much joy and happiness in my heart.
    She reminds me in every manner of our missed Knut ….and when I saw ,how much You cared about her and gave her a heartly warm welcome in her new home ,letting her play with ice and balls …I could even laugh again about her very exciting play and I felt the joy coming back to my soul.
    Thank you so much for your patience with her , your carefulness and attention …I`m sure she will never forget you! You did so well ,like the unforgotten keeper of Knut, Mr. Th. Dörflein did, who taught Knut from the beginning in unbelievable unselfishness and modesty , how to survive and to live a happy life……

    Well, I dare to say:
    You are the most wonderful PLAYMATE I`ve ever seen and like KNUT on Vanity-fair in 2007 ….YOU belong with Qannik, the one and only Topmodel-Princesse-Bear ever, on the title of PLAYBEAR ! Yes you do!!!

    Thank you very much for all you`ve done for princesse Qannik……..and for me!

    Best Greetings fom Munich /Bavaria the city of famous OktoBEARfest …You and Mr. Gomes will always be very welcome ,if you want to visit it some day.

    Inga from Munich

  21. Mr.Patrick Lampi,
    Thank you for telling us about the ransom and the beginning of your friendship with the small princess. Your efforts and of the whole team are valuable, you made a great work with Qannik.
    Hugs from Brazil

  22. dear Mr. Patrick Lampi
    thank you for your interesting report. I am glad Qannik could make such good experiences.
    I wish you always a succesfull work in Zoo Alaska, dear greetings