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Winnipeg researchers add sparkle to polar bear diet at zoo
Published Tuesday, May 24, 2016 7:49PM CST
Researchers at the Assiniboine Park Zoo are getting creative with how they study polar bears.
A sparkly new technique is helping the team see how the bears are adjusting to life at the zoo.
Dr. Stephen Petersen, the head of conservation and research at the zoo, is looking at hormones in the bears’ feces.
"Because we have so many animals, so many bears right now...we need to know whose poo is whose, and that's why we've started to give glitter, and different colours of glitter to the bears here," Petersen said.
Each of the nine bears at the zoo is assigned a colour and before they get a chance to chow down on their meals, a dash of glitter is added.
Petersen said the bears go on with their daily activities, until nature calls, and that's when the samples are collected and frozen for further testing.
According to Petersen, there's no shortage of poo, so researchers can conduct various studies on the fecal matter collected.
“We have colleagues that are looking at how hormone profiles change over time, so not stress hormones, but sex hormones, so how does testosterone change as a young bear matures into an adult bear," Petersen said.
For those concerned about the bears' health, the research team uses non-toxic glitter.
"We bought stuff that's safe for your kids,” Petersen said. “Safe for humans, safe for kids' crafts projects, safe for polar bears."
Winnipeg is not the only zoo using this technique. It's popular because it's a less invasive way of monitoring the bears.
"If we want to get like, really immediate response, we would get blood samples, and right now we don't really have a way to do that without knocking down the animal and sedating the animal and so we don't want to do that," Petersen said.
The research team is in the collection phase of the project and hasn’t seen any results yet.
"This lab is really set up to do genetic sorts of questions, so we can look at poo from animals in the wild and say it's a male or a female and if it's in the system, and it's been genetically profiled, we can identify it by that, " said Petersen.
He said, just like there's no shortage of poo, there's no shortage of glitter combinations they can make.
That means if more bears arrive, they will have no problem dropping them into the study.