Category — Polar Bear International
Today, let’s celebrate International Polar Bear Day with some fun facts illustrated by some of our own bears, past and present.
Polar bears are survival specialists in an extreme environment—the Arctic, where winter lasts six months and temperatures average -30ºF. Their large body size, thick fur coat and several-inch layer of blubber provide insulation from the cold, in and out of the water.
Here we can certainly get an idea of just how big a polar bear can be. Reaching weights up to 1,500 lbs, a large male can reach heights of more than 10 feet when standing up on its hind legs.
Check out those paws! Each one is the size of a dinner plate! They act like snowshoes, spreading out the bear’s weight as it walks across the snow and ice.
Polar bears have super sniffers. The polar bear can sniff out seals, their favorite prey, from miles away and even detect seals that are hiding underneath several feet of snow.
Their streamlined shape, partially webbed front paws and buoyant layer of blubber make polar bears champion swimmers. In the wild, bears are able to swim for hundreds of miles at a time between ice floes, from which they hunt seals. As our global climate warms, the sea ice continues to shrink, making it increasingly difficult for polar bears to hunt seals and reproduce.
The Zoo partners with Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center to help save polar bears and their habitat by reducing carbon emissions to curb climate change and encouraging our supporters to do the same. Here at the Zoo we are doing our part to use energy more efficiently by generating renewable energy through solar panels and geothermal wells and employing green building practices.
We also have a brand new Red Bike Station located at the Zoo’s entrance. Next time you come to the Zoo, consider riding a bike to save on fossil fuels (once all this snow and ice is gone, of course). Check out some other ways you can take action for polar bears suggested by Polar Bears International.
Learn how the Zoo’s Center for Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) is also working to save polar bears with science.
February 27, 2015 2 Comments
According to Elvis, it’s going to be another disappointing year for polar bear births. There is no pregnancy test for polar bears, but Elvis, a 3-year old beagle who lives at IronHeart High Performance Working Dogs, is being evaluated on his ability to diagnose pregnancy by smelling fecal samples (to read more about Elvis and his training, click here). Polar bears experience low reproductive rates world-wide but are exceptionally challenging to study because traditional methods of pregnancy detection, such as progesterone analysis, don’t distinguish pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy this species. The 17 potential polar bear moms involved in this year’s Elvis study reside in zoos as close as Columbus and as far as Copenhagen. Last year, Elvis was 93% accurate in his pregnancy predictions. If his diagnostic accuracy is similar to last year, we’ll be lucky if just one or two bears have cubs.
But while Elvis sniffs poop, scientists at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are using cutting-edge research to figure out which components of a fecal sample Elvis might be recognizing in an effort to develop a laboratory-based pregnancy test. A pregnancy test would allow them to determine where the reproductive process is failing so that potential causes can be addressed. A polar bear pregnancy test wouldn’t just be useful for bears in zoos- it could also help their wild cousins. Since the test would rely on a fecal sample, it could be used to non-invasively monitor wild populations of polar bears, whose numbers are predicted to decline.
Unfortunately, the Elvis test showed that “Berit”, the Cincinnati Zoo’s female is not pregnant again this year and so far, there’s been no other word of cub arrivals. Polar bears can give birth anytime from October to January, so Elvis will need to wait a few more weeks to find out how he performed.
To make a donation to CREW’s polar bear research, please visit the Polar Bear Challenge webpage. Donations made by Dec 31st will be matched dollar for dollar by the Young Family Foundation.
December 10, 2014 2 Comments
Elvis has spent the past three weeks sniffing fecal samples from polar bears around the country, making his predictions on which bears might be pregnant. Elvis is trained to pause and sit immediately when he detects a pregnancy—and does not show interest at samples from non-pregnant bears. Last week, Elvis was presented multiple times with two separate samples (collected on 10/12/13 and 10/20/13), from the Cincinnati Zoo’s female polar bear, Berit. Unfortunately, Elvis did not show interest in either sample, indicating she may not be expecting cubs this fall.
The sniffer dog project is part of a larger effort to study reproduction in polar bears. Scientists at CREW have been monitoring polar bears since 2008 and have analyzed over 14,000 fecal samples from 55 polar bears living in North American zoos. In addition to the Elvis test, we’ve been measuring Berit’s fecal hormone levels and performing ultrasound examinations in attempts to gain more information about her pregnancy status. Taken together, it seems that Berit is probably experiencing a pseudo-pregnancy, also known as a false pregnancy. Pseudo-pregnancy occurs when a female’s hormones, namely progesterone, increase to levels similar to those of a true pregnancy. However, in a pseudo-pregnancy, no fetus is present. Like pregnant bears, pseudo-pregnant females often gain weight (Berit gained almost 200 pounds this season!) and may behave like they’re pregnant, building nests and spending more time in their dens.
We’re not sure why pseudo-pregnancy occurs in polar bears but it seems to be a common phenomenon in many females we’ve monitored. A goal of CREW’s polar bear research is to develop a test to differentiate pseudo-pregnancy from true pregnancy. If Elvis proves successful, the next step is to identify the specific compound in the fecal samples that Elvis is signaling on and then develop a laboratory-based method to measure it. A test that distinguishes pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy could potentially be applicable to other species that experience pseudo-pregnancy, such as endangered cat species, otters, and red pandas.
Since the sniffer dog project is still in the testing phase, we are not making any major management changes based on Elvis’s predictions. Berit’s keepers continue to keep a close eye on her and she still has access to a den and extra bedding if she wants it. Berit has never produced offspring, so while Elvis’s predictions are disappointing, they are not a total surprise. Berit is of prime reproductive age for a polar bear (14 years) and we have not lost hope that she may have cubs next year!
November 19, 2013 2 Comments