By Colour Sergeant Carin Dodsley, Army Public Affairs
Winnipeg, Manitoba – It has been a full year since Honorary Corporal Juno, the Canadian Army’s adopted polar bear and live mascot, arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba to participate in Operation SOCIALIZATION.
Over the course of this operation, HCpl Juno has experienced training opportunities and social interactions required for development from a cub (or Private) to a young adult polar bear (now a Corporal).
At two years and four months old, HCpl Juno is showing her warrior spirit by remaining brave, strong and resilient during this phase of her development.
Qualifications, rations and quarters
In early March 2017, HCpl Juno deployed from her birthplace at the Toronto Zoo to Winnipeg to socialize with other polar bears in her age group, or in Army-speak, to earn her trade qualifications.
Her quarters at the Assiniboine Park Zoo are located at the Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, a transition and research facility for young polar bears.
HCpl Juno’s “rations” consist of a variety of fish, specially developed polar bear “chow”, and a meat product specialized for polar bears, which contains proteins and nutrients needed for polar bear growth.
Schedule and Training
According to Allison Ginsburg, the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Curator of Animal Care – Large Carnivores, HCpl Juno has a very full and active schedule.
“The polar bears are always fed multiple times a day, they have enrichment, they have access to their outdoor habitats as well as their indoor ones, and they have lots of interactions with their animal care staff,” she noted. There are currently nine polar bears at the zoo.
Ms. Ginsburg reported that HCpl Juno participates in many different types of environmental enrichment activities to encourage “species-appropriate” behaviour.
“Some of it is interactive. We’ll take different types of toys down to the fence line and run back and forth or roll a ball back and forth in front of them for direct interaction with the animal care staff.”
HCpl Juno also has enrichment built into her habitat. Objects such as balls and large barrels help to simulate natural polar bear behaviours, such as pouncing to break through the ice to get to seals.
“We do different types of puzzle-feeders where we can hide food and different things and they have to work to get the food out,” Ms. Ginsburg explained.
In her leisure time, HCpl Juno can be found frolicking in the snow and interacting with guests of the Assiniboine Park Zoo – from a distance, of course.
Shortly after her arrival in Winnipeg in March 2017, HCpl Juno was introduced to two young male polar bears her age, Nanuq and Siku.
On HCpl Juno’s first meeting with the bears, she performed a bit of reconnaissance before joining ranks.
“She was very tentative when she first met them, and took several days to go anywhere near them. She kind of watched them from afar to see what they were doing and after a while she would slowly join in and play,” Ms. Ginsburg said.
Since that first introduction to her troop, HCpl Juno has come a long way. In November 2017, she first met York, a male polar bear just over three years old, with whom she now lives. She didn’t hide this time, but started interacting with York immediately, proving her growing confidence in being around other bears.
HCpl Juno has already competently met many of the standards for polar bear development. Her weight, currently at 208.5 kilograms, is normal for a female polar bear her age.
Ms. Ginsburg reported that she is responding well to training. HCpl Juno is learning many polar bear maintenance behaviours that are necessary for a polar bear living in the zoo, such as how to sit, open her mouth for an exam and stand up all the way so the zoo staff can get a good look at her body – similar to military drill and health inspections.
HCpl Juno’s habitat is made up of three different environments, and she has to get used to shifting from one to another. Much of her training is ongoing, stated Ms. Ginsburg: “We’re always working on comfort level, trust and relationship with the handlers.”
So, what’s next for HCpl Juno? She will continue to develop her species-specific behaviours (or trade-specific knowledge) on Operation SOCIALIZATION, most likely through the summer.
When she has achieved the standard for success as an adult polar bear (or, to put it in military terms, has obtained her qualifications as a trained member of the Army suitable for her role and rank), she is expected to receive her marching orders to return to the Toronto Zoo where she was born.
Once her current training mission is successful, HCpl Juno will be well-trained and well-equipped to handle any challenges she may face when she returns to her home unit in Toronto.
A brief history of Honorary Corporal Juno
The feisty bear was born on Remembrance Day in 2015 and named after Juno Beach, the code name for the Canadian landing area in France on D-Day in June 1944. The Toronto Zoo decided that Juno would be an appropriate name.
The zoo contacted the Army to ask if they would adopt her as an official mascot to help bring awareness of the plight of polar bears in the wild. The symbolism of the November 11 birthdate coupled with the strong symbol of Canada that is the polar bear brought instant agreement.
She stands as a living example of the bravery, tenacity and strength of the soldiers who were instrumental in the success of D-Day operations on th