Media outlets have recently been having collective orgasms over photos and videos of a three month old polar bear cub born at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, which has again raised the issue of why it is now acceptable for polar bears to be held and bred in captivity.
Newborn polar bear cub ‘Nora’ Columbus Zoo handout
The myth being propagated by zoos and their supporters is that it’s necessary to save polar bears from extinction.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth – this is all about pressuring people to care about climate change. Polar bears are merely a marketing tool to spur action on climate change. That’s not my opinion but the plan put in place in 2012 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Polar Bears International.
Oddly, few animal rights activists are objecting (or at least, not objecting very strenuously) to zoo displays of captive polar bear cubs – obvious money-making draws for zoos – which were so vehemently condemned in the 1970s that most zoos gave them up.
Now, the practice is defended and everyone seems to feel this is the greatest thing since the invention of the telephone. [Update 19 February 2016: courtesy the BBC, we can add Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland to the list of zoos using “we’re saving the polar bears” justification for breeding the bears in captivity]
The surprise is that disgraced climate scientist Michael Mann, promoter of the infamous hockey stick of global temperatures, is involved in all this.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged activists, ambassador, animal rights, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, breeding, captivity, climate change, climate scientist, cubs, education, facts, IUCN, Michael Mann, myths, polar bear, Polar Bears International, primer, Red list, reintroduction, sea ice, Steven Amstrup, threatened, vulnerable, zoo
I’ve combined the months of November and December for this post on USGS polar bear tracking in the Beaufort Sea because there’s not much to tell: there’s one tagged bear left and she’s going almost nowhere. Where’s the news in that?
Movements of 1 satellite-tagged polar bear female for the month of November, 2015; shown with sea ice coverage at 30 November 2015. This bear was tagged in the spring of 2015 in the Southern Beaufort Sea. See original image here and December movements below.
Actually, it does tell us something: this female is probably in a sea ice den, a relative common phenomenon in the Beaufort Sea. And she’s on ice that’s out over very deep water. Continue reading
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, bathymetry, Beaufort Sea, birth, continental shelves, cubs, facts, females, maternity dens, polar bear, tracking, USGS
Good news from Norway: polar bears around Svalbard are in excellent condition this spring and many females with new cubs have been spotted. This is a marked turn around from conditions just last year.
According to a Norwegian news outlet yesterday, Jon Aars (Fig. 1, below), from the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirms that this has been an excellent year for polar bear cubs around Svalbard because there has been abundant sea ice near denning areas on the east coast.
Figure 1. Biologist Jon Aars with a Svalbard cub.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged AMO, Arctic, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Barents Sea, body condition, cubs, denning, fall, Franz Josef Land, Jon Aars, Madden-Julian Oscillation, Norwegian Polar Institute, NSIDC, polar bear, science, sea ice, spring, Svalbard, winter
Satellites images might be able to replace aerial counts of polar bears in some places — if there are no clouds. But it seldom distinguishes cubs and can’t tell males from females, found a 2012 study of Foxe Basin bears that’s just been published.
Note: This is my 200th post since July 26, 2012!
Posted in Population
Tagged aerial survey, cubs, Foxe Basin, helicopter survey, polar bear, population estimates, Rowley Island, satellite images, sea ice, September ice minimum, Seth Stapleton, USGS
Polar bears are generally out of sight at this time of year and will be for several more months. Pregnant females will be snug in maternity dens giving birth and all others will be out on the sea ice looking for seals to eat – if they can find them in the dark.
In most areas of the Arctic, December is when polar bear cubs are born, although in southern regions (like Western and Southern Hudson Bay), some may be born in late November and in the far, far north, a few may be born as late as early February.
The actual “date of birth” for polar bear cubs is often back-calculated from when they emerge with their mothers in the spring, because they are born well away from our prying eyes in the dark of the Arctic winter, deep with a snow or soil den dug for that purpose (see previous post here). So our knowledge of the “true” dates of birth in various regions is limited. We have some evidence from native Canadian hunters prior to 1968, when it was both legal and common practice in Canada for Inuit to hunt bears in their dens (Van de Velde et al. 2003), and from a few scientific research expeditions (Amstrup and Gardner 1994; Harington 1968; Ramsay and Stirling 1988; Derocher et al. 1992).
Polar bear cubs, like all bears, are born tiny and rather undeveloped (see Figs 1 and 2 below). Their eyes do not open until about one month after birth. By the time they are 63 days old (two long months after birth, see Toronto Zoo photo here ), their eyes are wide open and they are well furred. Keep in mind, for perspective, that domestic dogs are born after a 63 day gestation period and their eyes open at about 12 days.
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