Hogle Zoo to say goodbye to Hope the polar bear — but a new bear arrives soon

Visitors will be able to meet Nikita, a 15-year-old male, in the spring.

(Photo courtesy of Hogle Zoo) Nikita the polar bear — who stands 10 and a half feet tall on his hind legs — is coming to Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City from North Carolina.

A female polar bear that has lived at Hogle Zoo since 2017 is heading to a new zoo in the Midwest at the end of the month. But bear lovers won’t have to mourn her absence for long — a new male polar bear will soon be coming to the zoo.

Hope, a 5-year-old polar bear, came to Hogle Zoo when she was a year and a half old with her companion Nora, who will also be leaving in February, according to a news release from the zoo.

But in the spring, visitors will get to meet Nikita, a 15-year-old bear from a zoo in North Carolina.

With Nikita — “Nik” for short — people will get more bear for their buck: He weighs about 1,200 pounds, which is double Hope’s 600 pounds. When he stands on his hind legs, he is over 10 feet tall. When he arrives, Nikita will be quarantined for 30 days while veterinarians check his health, according to the release.

“Nikita is a big and loveable goofball,” said Nicole Pepo, who worked with Nikita in North Carolina, in the news release. According to Pepo, this big bear likes to nap, roll in the dirt and eat peanut butter and grape jelly.

Why are the bears being shuffled around?

It is all part of a bear dating and mating program designed to increase cubs because the species is critically endangered. Like Tinder, the Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums matches animals from different zoos electronically. Unlike Tinder, the program makes matches based on strong genetics instead of headshots, selfies and one-liners.

The matchmakers are hoping Hope will produce healthy cubs at her new zoo. Nikita, meanwhile, is being sent to Utah after he didn’t mate with a female bear he was paired with for five years, according to Rockingham Now.

People who want to wish Hope and Nora farewell before they leave must reserve a spot online in advance because of COVID-19 precautions. The zoo is open seven days a week. Masks are required for everyone who is 3 or older.