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Category — Polar Bears

We Love our Volunteers

Clara Madge Thane

Clara Madge Thane

This year marks the 40th anniversary of National Volunteer Week and is also the 40th year that two dedicated ladies by the names of Madge Van Buskirk and Clara Dantic have volunteered at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.  Volunteers are an essential part of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden team and these two ladies demonstrate the enduring importance of recognizing our volunteers for their vital contributions.

Madge with gorilla baby 70's

Madge with gorilla baby 70′s

Madge and Clara were fundamental in establishing the Zoo Volunteer Observer (ZVO’s) program that is still in existence at the Zoo today.  They coordinate a team of 50 individuals to conduct birth and behavioral watches as needed for animals in our collection. They have been busy lately scheduling ZVO’s for the giraffe birth watch and polar bear reproductive behavior watch.  The inception of this program began in 1974 to help ensure the safety of gorilla moms and babies.  The fruits of their labor can be seen today in the many offspring that have been successfully born at our Zoo- including a bonobo named ‘Clara’ who still resides at our Zoo and a gorilla named ‘Madge’ who now is living at the Dallas Zoo.

If you don’t find Madge and Clara at the Zoo, you will be sure to find at the ball park- they attend every home game for the Cincinnati Reds!

To all our Zoo volunteers, a big THANK YOU for everything you do to help make us successful!

April 10, 2014   3 Comments

Zoo Volunteer Observers

Our Zoo Volunteer Observers (ZVO) are a great asset to the Zoo &  our Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) – being our eyes (and ears sometimes) when keepers go home at night.  They have been busy lately monitoring polar bear breeding activity and watching our pregnant giraffe via web cam 24-hrs-day for signs of labor.

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Volunteers Nancy W. and Donna M. watching the polar bears.

The ZVOs have been monitoring the polar bears daily to look for signs of impending estrus/breeding behavior. Their diligent observations are helping CREW researchers learn more about polar bear reproduction and reproductive behavior.

Thank you ZVOs!

March 21, 2014   2 Comments

The sniffer dog results are in….

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Elvis sniffing polar bear fecal samples.

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.

Berit sleeping in Lords of the Arctic exhibit.

Berit sleeping in Lords of the Arctic exhibit.

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