Just over a week ago a 17lb polar bear cub was rescued from Alaska’s North Slope with the help of ConocoPhillip’s Alpine oil field operators and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Alaskan zoological facilities were prepared to take in the cub and she was eventually placed at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. The zoo currently cares for two adult polar bears. The Association of Zoo and Aquarium’s Bear Taxon Advisory Group Chair, Dr. Randi Meyerson, indicated that the AZA Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) program members are working with the USFWS on placing the bear cub. Randi is also the SSP coordinator for polar bears and shared that institutions interested in taking the cub would need to be able to meet the physical and psychological needs of a polar bear. Candidate institutions will also include those with strong educational programs that convey polar conservation in the context of climate change and habitat degradation.
Last year myself and zoo staff attended a workshop hosted by the SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. An exploratory topic was the rescue of polar bears in the event of a catastophic disaster such as an oil spill. Federal and state scientists along with representatives from Polar Bears International and the three captive wildlife facilities in Alaska convened to discuss “what to do and how to do it,” in the event that an oil spill were to occur up here. Concerns that such a catastrophe might compromise polar bears and polar bear habitat were legitamate. We also adressed how and where to move the bears and cubs and learned de-oiling techniques based on a very successful sea otter rehabilitation program at the SeaLife Center. Alaskan zoological facilities like the Alaska Zoo, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and the Alaska SeaLife Center are all prepared to temporarily hold bears in the case of a natural or man-made disaster.
Contributing Editor Jordan Schaul is a conservation biologist and a collection curator with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. He received his PhD in conservation/veterinary preventive medicine from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in zoology. He is a council member (ex officio) of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a member and coordinator for education and outreach for the Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an advisor to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, correspondent editor and captive bear news correspondent for International Bear News, and member of the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society, which promotes high standards for wild carnivore care and welfare among private sanctuaries in North America. He is the creator of the Zoo Peeps brand which hosts a blog for the global zoo and aquarium community and a wildlife conservation oriented radio program. Jordan is also an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.