Aiding polar bear conservation: Scientists unveil their new plan
The Polar Bear Research Council has released its 2022 master plan, describing the highest priorities for, and most recent findings from, polar bear studies at zoos. Produced by zoo animal-care experts and polar bear field scientists, the plan aims to advance research that will help protect polar bears as climate change reduces the Arctic Sea ice on which they depend.
“We still have gaps in understanding how climate change is affecting polar bears, so it’s essential that the bears in our care help scientists learn more about their species,” said Amy Cutting, interim director of animal care and conservation at the Oregon Zoo. “Zoo bears are perfect candidates to help because they already participate in many health-care behaviors voluntarily and seem to find those experiences enriching.”
Indeed, much of today’s zoo-based polar bear science has its roots in animal-care advances at the Oregon Zoo. In 2012, polar bears Conrad and Tasul became the first of their species to voluntarily give blood. After learning about this milestone, scientist Karyn Rode contacted the zoo for assistance with her research in the Arctic. Polar bears are extremely difficult to observe in the wild, and Dr. Rode believed the zoo’s training advances presented a unique opportunity to fill critical knowledge gaps.
The zoo’s current polar bears, Nora and Amelia Gray, are also helping: Nora enjoys her time in a swim flume designed to help scientists understand the caloric requirements of wild polar bears; and before moving to Portland, Amelia Gray was one of a handful of bears outfitted with a “Burr on Fur” — a prototype tech innovation designed by 3M to give conservation scientists a better way to monitor wild bears.
“We’re excited to be continuing our collaborations with our conservation science partners,” Cutting said. “And it’s a great way for zoo guests to see that important work in action.”
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