A pair of bears at the Oregon Zoo are offering researchers unprecedented access to a species that is notoriously difficult to study in the wild.
Conrad and Tasul are both part of studies involving the effect of climate change on polar bears.
Researchers said while polar bears are capable of devouring nearly anything they encounter, from whales to lemmings, they cannot survive indefinitely without seals.
To hunt seals, polar bears depend on sea ice.
As climate change keeps the Arctic ice-free for increasingly longer periods, the predators are struggling to find enough prey, and data shows that a single year of prolonged warmth could spell disaster for entire sub-populations of the species, according to the Oregon Zoo.
Oregon Zoo curator Amy Cutting is one of 12 authors of a paper in the journal Conservation Letters that describes a series of polar bear emergency response strategies.
The paper outlines a list of measures that may alleviate the worst effects of a crisis, including food airdrops, rehabilitation and translocation further north. Each option is described alongside its limitations and potential long-term consequences.
Two Oregon Zoo polar bears are also doing their part.
As part of a collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, keepers are training Tasul, the zoo's female polar bear, to wear a collar that records and transmits data about her movement.
Researchers will videotape her and match the electronic signals with her behavior. Once the signals are calibrated, collars can be placed on free-roaming wild bears, allowing researchers to study how much energy polar bears use.
In another study, Tasul and Conrad will help researchers devise methods for identifying what wild polar bears eat during lean times.
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Friday, May 17 2013 7:16 PM EDT2013-05-17 23:16:53 GMT
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