A little Sonoran Desert sunshine is exactly what Snow the polar bear needed.
Since coming to the Reid Park Zoo in February, Snow has traded her itchy, patchy pelt from skin allergies for a healthy coat of of fur.
Snow's keeper, Alisha Brewer, credits the nearly 500 pound, 17-year-old bear's transformation to Tucson's dry climate and an abundance of sunshine.
"When she first came here, (she was) itchy, itchy, itchy all over all the time. It was shocking how itchy she was," Brewer said. "We have a huge street sweeper brush, like a really rough bristle gigantic brush, and she would just rake on that brush, like her sides, she'd get her booty up there and do this little salsa dance shake. ... It was horrible, and within a month the itching went away. ... She just had a little bit, but it's night and day."
Snow and her twin brother, Klondike, were born at the Denver Zoo but were transferred to SeaWorld Orlando at the age of 1, when they outgrew their exhibit. Snow's exhibit at SeaWorld was entirely indoors with artificial lighting and faux landscaping.
"That's a huge part of the problem. I mean their exhibit is beautiful, but it's totally indoors," Brewer said. "So if you have really bad allergies, being able to sit and just soak up Vitamin D is such a very nice thing."
The staff at SeaWorld tried to make Snow's condition better, including the use of several different medications, but nothing worked.
"Because she looked so bad, they didn't display her while the zoo was open. They would display their other polar bears, and once the facility was closed for the evenings, then Snow could come out," Brewer said.
Now, Snow is no stranger to the crowds who come to see her gnaw on her favorite treat, a fishsickle, or take a dip in one of her three pools.
"I love the polar bear," said 9-year-old Luke Belhumeur, who attends the zoo's day camp and whose mom is a zoo staffer. "When she comes out during the day and dives in the water and goes to all the fish, it's really cool to just see her jump in and dive down. It's really cool to see her in the water playing."
One of the things Snow, who also suffers from the bone-weakening disease rickets, enjoys most is rolling around in the grass, Brewer said.
"Since she's been here she loves this grassy yard. She's out in the grassy yard often just like soaking it in," Brewer said. "She was green for the first week because she was rolling in the grass so much she had grass stains on what fur she did have."
Snow has also reduced the amount of allergy medications she takes by about half, Brewer said.
The Reid Park Zoo had a similar success story with its previous polar bear, Kobe, who spent eight years at the zoo after being brought to Tucson from Rhode Island. Kobe had lost two-thirds of her fur because of an allergic reaction from mold growing in her exhibit.
"All that hair started to regrow and by 14 months that she was here, she had totally cleared up," Brewer said. "She had totally cleared up; we didn't give her any medicine, it was just our Tucson climate ... lots of access to the sun, and she looked gorgeous after about a year."
"When she first came here (she was) itchy, itchy, itchy all over all of the time. ... It was horrible and within a month the itching went away. ... She just had a little bit, but it's night and day."
Alisha Brewer, Snow's keeper
Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4224.