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Saving Polar Bears

Polar bears in zoos serve as insurance against species extinction, a reservoir for genetic material, and a tractable population to learn more about the behavior and physiology of these sizable, yet elusive species. A recent large-scale study revealed that visitors consistently ranked polar bears in the top twenty charismatic animals at zoos making them among the favorite animals to visit. These findings are not surprising: bears are highly intelligent, entertaining to watch, and often are marketed as the faces of wildlife conservation campaigns, fostering a sense of familiarity.

Consequently, they serve as exemplary ambassadors for educating zoo visitors about habitat loss, climate change, and human-wildlife conflict. CREW’s Polar Bear Signature Project tackles challenges facing polar bear populations to improve reproductive success, health and longevity, and genetic diversity. Because research on wild bears is logistically challenging and costly, information gained from zoo bears provides insight into how wild populations are coping with a changing environment.

Scientists at CREW focus on developing and implementing innovative monitoring techniques while addressing biologically relevant questions important to the conservation of wild bears. They have partnered with over 35 zoological institutions around the world, as well as organizations such as Polar Bears International, that are committed to the conservation of this species.