Mating hopes for female polar bear
The UK's only female polar bear arrives at her new home today, bringing hopes of a cub in the future.
Victoria is being introduced to Highland Wildlife Park as a potential mate for Arktos who lives there with fellow male Walker.
The female, who has travelled by road and sea from Aalborg Zoo in Denmark, will spend a couple of weeks settling into her new enclosure before the public can see her.
Her new home, separate from that of the males, features a large pond with plenty of natural ground for her to explore.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections for Highland Wildlife Park, said: "We are delighted to welcome a female polar bear to the Highlands. Victoria will need to settle in, but visitors should be able to meet our new arrival in a couple of weeks.
"Her enclosure is completely separate to Walker and Arktos's, as male and female polar bears live separately in the wild.
"During the polar bear breeding season, which general falls between March and May, we will gradually introduce her to Arktos and the two will stay together until the two hopefully mate, when the male will be returned to the bachelor enclosure."
If Victoria settles in quickly they might try to start breeding this year, but if not will wait till next year.
Seven-year-old Arktos has been chosen as Victoria's potential mate as his bloodline is less well represented than Walker's and he is a year older and likely to be more mature.
Mr Richardson said: "In addition to the main enclosure, there is an adjacent smaller holding enclosure with its own pool that will initially house the male until the signs are right for the introduction. This extra enclosure allows us to also use a visiting male from another zoo, should the breeding programme recommend it, and we are not aware of any other polar bear breeding facility that has this degree of flexibility.
"A polar bear has not been born in the UK for many years and we hope that our novel approach to enclosure design and the correspondingly unique husbandry regime will quickly translate into success.
"The birth and rearing of polar bear cubs will be of real value to the regional breeding programme, help to highlight the plight of polar bears in the wild, and will be incredibly positive for Highland Wildlife Park."
Victoria was born on December 12 1996 at Rostock Zoo in Germany and gave birth to cubs in 2008, one of which died.
Her surviving cub Milak became an online sensation when hundreds of thousands of people from 75 countries around the world followed the early days of the cub's life in the maternity den at Aalborg Zoo.
The last female polar bear to live in the UK was Mercedes, who died at the age of around 30 in April 2011 at Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie.
Last September 60 military personnel arrived in the Highlands to help the park create visitor access to Victoria's new home.
Engineers from 71 Engineer Regiment and a contingent from the South Dakota National Guard kicked off the project with the construction of a 300-metre (984ft) walkway out to the one-hectare polar bear enclosure on the south-west side of the park.