Oregon Zoo and scientists unveil a new plan to save the polar bears

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Polar Bear Research Council (PBRC), composed of zoo professionals and polar bear researchers, released its 2022 master plan, developed to help protect polar bears through advanced research, according to an Oregon Zoo press release.

Polar Bear Reaserach Masterplan

Courtesy: PBRC

The PBRC 2022 Polar Bear Research Masterplan consists of research strategies and field techniques to collect data on polar bear health and welfare, physiological and behavioral ecology, and reproduction. 

The Oregon Zoo stated that the collaboration between the council, zoo, and other scientists is imperative and urgent, “as climate change reduces Arctic Sea ice, polar bears struggle to find and catch seals, making it harder for them and their cubs to survive.”

U.S. Endangered Species Act classifies polar bears as a threatened species, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission reports the species is “at high risk of global extinction.”

“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. 

Cutting said that zoo bears are perfect candidates for research as they have helped scientists advance animal care. According to the Oregon Zoo, “In 2012, polar bears Conrad and Tasul became the first of their species to voluntarily give blood.”

Polar Bear Paw

Courtesy: PBRC

According to an article from the Oregonian, zoo crews would traditionally need to hit polar bears with a tranquilizing dart to draw blood, as zoo experts say polar bears do not like to be touched. The Oregon Zoo said they designed a cage and trained the polar bears to lay their paw in a specific location, so it was easier for researchers to take blood samples while another zookeeper distracted the bear with treats. 

After hearing about their research successes, polar bear scientist Karyn Rode said she contacted the zoo and asked Oregon Zoo for assistance. 

The Oregon Zoo said in a press release that “polar bears are extremely difficult to observe in the wild, and Dr. Rode, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative, believed the zoo’s training advances presented a unique opportunity to fill critical knowledge gaps.”

The polar bear named Tasul has been very helpful in finding how climate change affects wild polar bears by wearing “a high-tech collar to help calibrate tracking collars deployed on wild bears,” according to officials at the Oregon Zoo. 

Nora and Amelia Gray, two polar bears, welcomed back in 2021 to the Oregon Zoo, have also helped scientists in their endeavors. 

Polar Bear Tech

Courtesy: PBRC

The Oregon Zoo said Nora helps scientists understand caloric requirements for polar bears in the wild by swimming in a chamber designed to measure oxygen. “Amelia Gray was outfitted with a “Burr on Fur,” a prototype tech innovation designed by 3M to give conservation scientists a better way to monitor wild bears,” according to an Oregon Zoo press release. 

READ: Oregon Zoo welcomes back Nora the Polar Bear 

“We’re excited to be continuing our collaborations with our conservation science partners. And it’s a great way for zoo guests to see that important work in action,” Cutting said. 

According to the Oregon Zoo, “many of the habitat’s features in the Polar Passage where Nora and Amelia Gray live were funded through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation from the community.” This Foundation states that it supports the zoo’s animal welfare, conservation, and education efforts. To learn more about the Oregon Zoo and its research, visit oregonzoo.org/recovery.

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