Cincinnati Zoo Scientists Awarded Prestigious Grants for Polar Bear Reproduction Research

Posted November 2, 2021

CINCINNATI, OH (November 2, 2021) — Scientists from The Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden have made significant strides towards unlocking the secrets of polar bear reproduction and will continue their work thanks to grants from Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

“Both of these prestigious grants will advance the goals of CREW’s Polar Bear Signature Project,” said Dr. Terri Roth, Vice President of Conservation and Science and Director of CREW. “The funding from MAF will be used to study hormones that may provide insight into reproductive health and overall well-being of individual polar bears, and the IMLS grant will fund work to identify the reasons for low reproductive rates among polar bears in zoos and help improve propagation and breeding management strategies.”

Morris Animal Foundation Award Details:

CREW scientist, Dr. Jessye Wojtusik, received a First Award Grant by MAF in the amount of $92,388 over two years for her project titled “Investigation of serum hormones as biomarkers of reproductive health in polar bears”.

“Competition for MAF funding is tough. During a rigorous review process, they select the best, most innovative studies worthy of receiving funding and evaluate proposals based on scientific merit, potential impact, attainable objectives, and appropriateness of budget,” said Dr. Roth. “This is the largest award a CREW scientist has received from MAF and the first grant in the ‘First Award’ category as well.”

Reproduction in polar bears is complex; they experience embryonic diapause, delayed implantation, and sometimes, pseudopregnancy. These complexities make it difficult to determine when or why reproduction is failing. Monitoring hormones can help to determine what is going wrong, but which hormone, out of the dozens, holds the key? Thanks to this grant, an answer may be on the horizon. Advances in polar bear operant conditioning have resulted in the collection of hundreds of serum samples from happy-to-participate-for-a-treat bears. This multiplex technique will not only reduce the amount of valuable biological samples required, but will also help in assessing hormones quickly and efficiently.

IMLS Award Details:

CREW scientist Dr. Erin Curry was awarded a Museums for America award, in the amount of $196,462 with a $198,413 match provided by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, to conduct research to identify the reasons for low reproductive rates among polar bears in zoos and help improve propagation and breeding management strategies. The population of polar bears in managed care is in decline and only approximately 40 remain in U.S. zoos. Working in collaboration with the polar bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) and zoological organizations throughout the United States, scientists at CREW will quantify a suite of hormones and signaling molecules that will create metrics for assessing and improving polar bear reproductive health and wellness. Through open-access publications, the data will be accessible and useful to veterinary and animal care staff, field researchers, and scientists hoping to learn more about polar bear physiology. Ultimately, this work will result in more advanced diagnostic tools, improved management of individual bears, and an increase in reproductive success. This project is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant # MA-249327-OMS-2.