November 26, 2008 / 10:41 AM / 9 years ago

Japan polar bear mating stymied by gender mixup

<p>A polar bear licks a block of ice at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo August 11, 2004.Yuriko Nakao</p>

TOKYO (Reuters) - Handlers of a popular polar bear, brought to mate with a female in a zoo in northern Japan, found their breeding plan was doomed when they noticed that he, in fact, was a she.

Tsuyoshi, a four-year-old, 200 kg (441 lb) cream-colored polar bear, had been living in harmony with a female polar bear since June, the two often playing together, Masako Inoue, a zookeeper at the Kushiro Municipal Zoo, said on Wednesday.

"We thought he was a male, so we never had any doubts as we took care of him," she said.

"But one day we realized that the two bears urinate in the same way, and we thought, is that how males do it? And once we started to look at things that way, we weren't quite so sure."

After two DNA examinations of Tsuyoshi's hair and a manual exam, the Kushiro Municipal Zoo found Tsuyoshi to be a female.

"We do have mixed feelings," said Inoue.

"But because Tsuyoshi was supposed to be a male, she came here, and because she came here, we were able to take care of her since she was very small."

It is not uncommon for the sex of polar bears to be misread, Inoue said, as their long hair makes it difficult to distinguish, especially when the bears are young. Tsuyoshi was pegged as a male three months after birth, Inoue said.

The Kushiro Municipal Zoo will talk with other zoos in the area to see what to do about their breeding plan, she added.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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