Polar Bear Challenge

Berit in her exhibit

Several weeks ago, Dr. Terri Roth, Vice President of Conservation and Science, at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), mentioned that she would like to try giving “Berit”, the Zoo’s female polar bear, hormone injections to help her get pregnant. Scientists at CREW have been hoping for a polar bear pregnancy for quite some time and this is the next obvious step in helping that along. However, the typical method of injecting bears in captivity requires sedation. Knowing this, I instantly had something else in mind. I proposed that we condition Berit to accept injections on her own terms.

Berit touches her nose to the target and gets a fish

That we ask her to come in to her den, lean up against the training wall, and get a special treat for allowing us to inject her. This has never been done before at the Cincinnati Zoo (on polar bears) and folks had reservations, for good reasons. Fortunately, Dr. Roth was very excited as she knows it’s much less stressful on the bears to be trained to work with their keepers for something like this. So that is my (polar bear) challenge.

Lisa V. rewards Berit for touching her target while I touch her side.

I have approximately one month to get Berit trained. The first injection needs to happen towards the end of February. The really exciting part is that the ladies that care for the Zoo’s bears, Lisa V, Debbie, Lisa P, and Tanya, are amazing and are on board and supportive of the training that will need to take place to accomplish this in such a short period of time.

I'm getting the polar bear used to being touched where she will eventually be injected.

For the next month, we will all be working together twice a day to help Berit learn to come in, target on her nose, and then target on her side. Eventually we will bring the target closer and closer to the enclosure door, so she understands to come in and turn to her side. Once we have mastered that behavior, we will work on getting her to hold still and stay against the training wall.
Everyone is working hard to make this a comfortable and fun new enrichment activity for Berit. I am happy to report that she is loving the extra attention and yummy treats she is receiving for training. It’s really wonderful to see her run down to the training wall and get so excited for the sessions. If we are successful we may not only be aiding in her individual pregnancy but also in the conservation of this amazing species. (No pressure!)

Wish us luck!!