Asheboro, NC - Keepers at the North Carolina Zoo are sending one of their favorite animals a birthday package while he's on sabbatical at another zoo.
"Wilhelm" the polar bear was transferred to the Milwaukee Zoo in September 2011 while the N.C. Zoo's polar bear exhibit undergoes $8.5 million in renovations and expansion. Aquila, the zoo's other male polar bear, was moved to the Detroit Zoo in May 2011.

Ranked among the zoo's most popular animals, keepers want to make sure that "Willie" (as keepers have nicknamed him) knows he hasn't been forgotten on his 28th birthday coming up January 11. He will be 28 year old, near the top of the expected life span for polar bears in captivity.

According to zookeeper Jessica Cranfill, the polar bear staff has created a large cardboard birthday card that will be packaged with two of Willie's favorite items, a jar of peanut butter and a large plastic "boomer ball." The package will leave for Milwaukee today.

"Willie has been one of the visitors' favorite animals for nearly a decade," Cranfill explained. "We just want him to know how much he's missed back at home."
The N.C. Zoo is looking at the future of the polar bear species as the exhibit expansion will enable the park to add additional animals and help educate visitors about the polar bears' plight in the wild. The expansion project will triple the space available for polar bears and could accommodate up to six animals when completed. The project is expected to be completed in late 2014.
The zoo is located on Zoo Parkway (N.C. 159) six miles southeast of Asheboro of U.S. 64 and U.S. 220. Winter operating hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The park is open year round. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for children 2-12 and $10 for seniors 62-plus.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John E. Skvarla, III, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.