The laser was used while two polar bears enjoyed frozen treats.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Zoo worked with biologists and researchers to test cutting-edge laser technology by scanning the zoo’s polar bears.
According to the zoo, researchers from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey and the National Park Service have tested the technology on polar bears Nora and Amelia Gray to provide a safe, non-invasive way to monitor similar bears in the wild.
“Currently, we’re weighing bears with a big metal tripod, and they need to be immobilized,” said Lindsey Mangipane, a polar bear biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “We hope that this method will give us a way to determine the body size of bears that does not require capture and handling.”
Mangipane and her colleagues first learned that the National Park Service was photographing brown bears using 3D laser scanning technology in Katmai National Park as part of Fat Bear Week, the zoo said. They wondered if the same technology could be used on polar bears in the wild, and they came to the Oregon Zoo’s Habitat Polar Passage to find out.
Because the zoo bears are regularly weighed by caregivers, the announcement added, Mangipane and her colleagues can calibrate the laser technology with the known weights to see how accurate it is.
While Nora and Amelia Gray enjoyed some frozen treats, the researchers aimed their invisible scanning lasers at the bears from the roof of Polar Passage.
“It was so much fun working with Nora and Amelia Gray,” recalls Mangipane. “And her nursing staff did a great job of getting her into a good position for us to do the scans.”
According to Mangipane, accurate information about the body mass and condition of wild polar bears could help researchers answer many questions. Bears that are in good physical condition have a higher level of fitness and are more likely to have cubs.
As sea ice retreats in the Arctic, this information will become even more important in efforts to conserve wild polar bears, the zoo noted.
This isn’t the first time polar bears have helped science at the zoo, either.
The announcement said Nora is enjoying her time in a swim channel designed to help scientists understand the calorie needs of wild polar bears. and before she moved to Portland, Amelia Gray was one of a handful of bears equipped with a “burr on fur” – a prototype technical innovation developed by 3M to give conservation scientists a better way to study wild bears monitor.
“We still have gaps in our understanding of how climate change is affecting polar bears, so it’s important 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 volunteer to participate in many healthcare behaviors and seem to find these experiences enriching.”
Cutting added that much of today’s zoo-based polar bear research has its roots in advances in animal care at Oregon Zoo.
In 2012, polar bears Conrad and Tasul became the first of their kind to donate blood voluntarily, the press release says. Cutting described the breakthrough as “huge” in terms of improved animal welfare and veterinary care.
After reading a news article about the milestone, the zoo said polar bear researcher Karyn Rode contacted the Oregon Zoo for assistance with her research in the Arctic. Polar bears are extremely difficult to observe in the wild, and Rode, a biologist with the US Geological Survey’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems initiative, believed the zoo’s training advances presented a unique opportunity to fill critical knowledge gaps.
Tasul helped Rode learn how climate change is affecting wild polar bear diets, then assisted one of her USGS colleagues by wearing a high-tech collar to help calibrate tracking collars used on wild bears the announcement stated.
“The collaboration could not come at a more urgent time. As climate change reduces Arctic sea ice, polar bears are struggling to find and capture seals, making it harder for them and their cubs to survive,” the zoo said. “The species is classified as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission has listed the species as at high risk of global extinction.”