First polar bear cub born in the UK for 25 years

A polar bear cub has been born in the UK for the first time in 25 years at a Scottish wildlife park.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said its resident female polar bear Victoria gave birth at the Highland Wildlife Park.

Staff confirmed the birth after hearing "high-pitched sounds" from Victoria's maternity den.

Una Richardson, the park's head keeper responsible for carnivores, said staff are "absolutely thrilled".

"We first heard promising noises in the week before Christmas and these have now continued into the new year.

"Because we don't have sight inside her cubbing box we can't be sure if Victoria has had more than one cub but we can confirm the birth."

Proud parents: The cub's mother Victoria mated with Arktos, one of the park's two males. Credit: Alex Riddell

Ms Richardson also stressed that the park is "not celebrating prematurely" as the first weeks of life can be perilous for infant cubs.

She said: "Polar bear cubs have a high mortality rate in the first weeks of life due to their undeveloped immune system and the mother's exaggerated need for privacy, with any disturbance risking the cub being killed or abandoned."

"We will continue to monitor Victoria and very much hope for the best possible news when she emerges around March.

"Until then, Victoria's enclosure will be closed to the public and keeper activity will be at a minimum to give her offspring every chance of survival."

New-born polar bear cubs are blind, around 30cm long and weigh little more than a guinea pig, the RZSS said.

It added that they only open their eyes when they are a month old and are entirely dependent on their mother.

They feed on fat-rich milk which enables them to grow quickly and weigh around 10 to 12kg by the time they leave their den.

The breeding season began in March last year, during which Victoria mated with Arktos, one of the park's two males.

RZSS chief executive Barbara Smith said: "The birth of the first polar bear cub in the UK for a quarter of a century is an outstanding achievement which will arouse interest around the world.

She added: "At RZSS we believe we have a duty to help protect this magnificent species, with the reduction in sea ice, the polar bear's primary seal hunting platform, predicted to significantly reduce numbers over the next 40 years."