From Cincinnati to the Arctic Tundra

Posted November 2, 2018 by debbie loebker

Welcome to Polar Bear Week, also known as, my favorite week of the year! It’s early November. It’s cold. It’s snowy. Polar bears are waiting for the sea ice to form. Polar Bear Week coincides with the fall polar bear migration to Churchill, Manitoba, where polar bears gather to wait for freeze-up on Hudson Bay so they can return to hunting seals. During Polar Bear Week, we focus on the importance of sea ice to polar bears–and why we must take action on climate change to ensure their survival!

Let me introduce myself. My name is Debbie and I am an animal trainer at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. I am responsible for taking care of animals like our sea lion, Andean bear, otters, grey foxes, arctic foxes and of course, the polar bears.

2018 is a big year for the polar bear, especially here in Cincinnati! It’s possible that Anana, our female polar bear, might be pregnant! There’s no pregnancy test for polar bears, so we have to proceed as if cubs are on the way. To prepare for possible polar bear cubs, the Zoo is moving forward with plans to expand the polar bear habitat as part of our More Home to Roam campaign. Making room for additional denning space is just one measure. We’re also keeping activity and noise in the area to a minimum for the next few months.

In the midst of all of this excitement, I was selected to represent the Cincinnati Zoo at the 2018 Polar Bears International (PBI) Climate Alliance! PBI works with a variety of partners, including the Cincinnati Zoo, towards a common goal: saving polar bears by reducing carbon emissions that contribute to Arctic sea-ice melt.

During this program, participants like myself learn:

  • A grounding in climate science.
  • An understanding of the status of Arctic sea ice, polar bears, and the urgent need to act.
  • Training in strategies to effect community change.

Polar bear plays with a ball (Photo: DJJAM)The program brings together key staff members at like-minded organizations that are leading the effort in their communities to reduce CO2. We engage in online learning experiences, attend a training session with experts, and stay connected over time with fellow ambassadors and alumni through online gatherings and social media tools. The experience and connections you make during this program are invaluable and I can say that I have come back from this trip more inspired than ever to make a change to save polar bears!

Throughout the course, participants do independent studies to learn more about sea ice, polar bears and climate change. Did you know that using less energy produced by carbon-based fuels reduces our carbon emissions and can slow and even stop global warming, in turn saving our sea ice? Polar bears require sea ice for efficient hunting. Without sea ice, polar bears will decline in range and numbers, making them vulnerable to extinction in the future.

One of the key environmental issues of our time is our climate changing, which is connected to global carbon emissions. When we burn fossil fuels for energy, we add more and more carbon into the atmosphere. This buildup acts like a thickening blanket that traps heat more and more. The denser the blanket gets the more heat it traps underneath. This trapped heat is warming our average global temperature and disrupting the climate. Our climate system is changing in many ways around the world, impacting people, places, and animals. For example, the extra heat results in the loss of the amount of sea ice on the planet. It also leads to longer warm seasons – the ice breaks up earlier in the spring and forms later in the fall. These changes in climate drastically affect polar bears habitats and make it harder to find food/build dens.

Fiona the hippo (Photo Lisa Hubbard)I’m proud to say that my Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has been dedicated to the conservation of plants and animals since 1875. Proclaimed the “Greenest Zoo in America” in 2010, we’ve continued to lead the way in sustainability and green initiatives by evolving our daily operations and reducing our impact on the environment. Through green building, solid waste management, renewable energy, water conservation, storm water management, energy efficiency and community outreach, the Zoo has strengthened our sustainability program to have a positive impact on the planet. Even baby hippo Fiona swims in 100% recycled rain water!

Click here for more ideas to help save polar bears at home (like adjusting your thermostat two degrees to lower your carbon footprint! You can also look for educational moments during your next trip to the Zoo! There’s always a chance to ask questions, read signs or listen to keeper chats that are full of insightful information. The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to partner with Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center. The goal of this partnership is to sustain a future for polar bears across the Arctic. Join us on social media and at the Zoo in 2019 for Polar Bear Day (Wednesday, February 27, 2019) and Arctic Sea Ice Day (Monday, July 15, 2019) to help spread awareness and save polar bears!

At the end of our learning program, the group is invited to Churchill to study polar bears and their Arctic habitat! My group was lucky to see 3 polar bears, a snowy owl, an Arctic hare, ptarmigans, many beluga whales, Arctic foxes, snow geese & more! The people were so amazing, kind, intelligent and I’ve made lifelong friends through this program. The Arctic tundra is an amazing and complex habitat and not something everyone is lucky enough to see!


Although it was hard work, I met some amazing and dedicated people, and I’m excited to have a better understanding about how to clearly share climate change messaging with Zoo guests and how we can help save polar bears together! I’m motivated and inspired to save polar bears and help Cincinnati continue to be the Greenest Zoo in America!