Visitors to the Como Zoo in St. Paul can now welcome Nan, a polar bear who came into this world 26 years ago at the most northern point of the United States.

Nan comes to the Twin Cities from the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, where she lived for four years after residing in zoos in Toledo, Ohio, and Tacoma, Wash.

Short for the Inupiaq word "Nanutaaq," which means young of a bear, Nan was orphaned and discovered under a house above the Arctic Circle in Barrow, Alaska.

Wildlife authorities quickly determined she was too young to survive in the wild on her own, and so began her life in the Lower 48.

In January, a Como Friends donor provided the money for Como's zookeepers to travel to Chicago and transport Nan to her current home.

Nan has been slowly introduced behind the scenes to Neil, Como's 25-year-old male polar bear. While Neil and Nan are not a breeding couple, "they will provide each other with companionship," the zoo said Thursday in announcing her arrival.

"Nan is an important ambassador for her threatened species," read a statement from zoo director Michelle Furrer. "When people see and learn more about polar bears, it brings awareness of their plight in the wild."

In 2008, the polar bear became the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened primarily due to climate change. There are about 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the wild, and their numbers are projected to decline for decades.

Paul Walsh