‘Twas a week before Christmas, and all through the zoo, the Polar Bear Plunge saw the biggest to-do.

Polar bear enjoys snow day. Photo via San Diego Zoo
Friday morning, nearly 26 tons of show blanketed the polar bear exhibit at the San Diego Zoo for the benefit of Kalluk, Tatqiq and Chinook, who frolicked in the natural element and wrestled with each other.

San Diego Zoo staff said yams, carrots, melons and beef femur bones also were scattered throughout the exhibit as added enrichment. The bears pounced and dug for their prizes in a video viewed more than 19,000 times.

The annual enrichment was made possible by donors who contributed to the animal care wish list on the San Diego Zoo website, sandiegozoo.org.

“This was a special day for the polar bears, and I could tell they really loved it,” said Susan Purtell, senior keeper at the Balboa Park zoo. “It was great seeing them roll around in the snow, showcasing their natural behaviors.”

Polar bears enjoy snow day. Photo via San Diego Zoo
Among other things, they slid, dug and pounced on the snow. Bears use these actions to help them break through ice to reach seal dens.

All three bears were rescued at a young age, so they had to learn these behaviors without the help of their mothers. Kalluk and Tatqiq’s mom was shot and killed when they were young cubs, the zoo said, and Chinook’s mother was nowhere to be found when the young cub was discovered roaming around the streets of a city alone.

As a threatened species, polar bears face danger from poachers and habitat loss, mostly due to climate change.

Zoo guests can visit Kalluk, Tatqiq and Chinook during the zoo’s Jungle Bells celebration presented by California Coast Credit Union. Twinkling holiday lights, merrymaking activities, live music and festive foods are offered.

The zoo’s holiday celebration runs through Jan. 3 and is free with paid admission or membership to the San Diego Zoo. The zoo is open until 8 nightly, except Dec. 24, when the zoo closes at 5.

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