Polar Bears International

The zoos and aquariums in our Arctic Ambassador Center network help the public connect with polar bears and the Arctic--and inspire them to care.

© Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

6/19/2017 9:06:11 AM

Polar Bear Keeper Exchange

By Marissa Krouse

Polar Bears International has long had a highly effective secret weapon: The zoos and aquariums in our Arctic Ambassador Center network amplify our outreach on climate change and how we can work together on solutions. They also work to set high standards for polar bears in zoos, regularly participating in zoo-based conservation science and continually striving to improve the overall well-being of the animals in their care.

In the spirit of fostering a healthy exchange of information and to support the important work zoos are doing, Polar Bears International recently arranged for a keeper from Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Park in France to visit two zoos in the U.S. The goal: to learn about North American polar bear care standards, training techniques, and climate messaging to share back home.

Cooperative spirit

Lead Keeper/Curator Marine Bacconais began her training at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, in early May and then traveled to the San Diego Zoo in California. Since returning, Marine has already given presentations about the exchange in several settings.

Marine’s recent trip to the U.S was just one part of PBl’s collaborative efforts to share information with European animal care and management teams. She is now in a position to contribute to the planning and facilitation of Polar Bears International’s first European Polar Bear Husbandry Training Workshop, which will be hosted by Yorkshire Wildlife Park in October. The European workshop will bring polar bear keepers and managers together to advance husbandry training in participating zoos and to collectively improve polar bear well-being and conservation research efforts. 

As a former keeper myself, I understand the importance of hands-on training sessions and time with peers. As a team member of an organization that conducts, supports, and shares scientific research that informs polar bear conservation, my colleagues and I  appreciate the eagerness and generosity of all contributing partners. 

Thanks to the many advisors representing institutions around the world who have worked on this project: San Diego Zoo, Como Zoo, Oregon Zoo, Vienna Zoo, Yorkshire Wildlife Park, Mulhouse Zoo, Stuttgart Zoo, Ouwehands Zoo, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), Munich Zoo, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Polar Bear SSP.

Below are snapshots of Marine’s experience. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into her world!

Como Zoo

By Allison Jungheim, Senior Zookeeper/Training Coordinator, Como Zoo

A Como Zoo zookeeper trains a polar bear to touch a target.

A Como Zoo zookeeper demonstrates training techniques that allow polar bears to participate voluntarily in their own healthcare. Photo by Allison Jungheim.

Como Zoo was excited and honored to have Lead Keeper/Curator Marine Baconnais from Mulhouse Zoo in France visit in early May thanks to Polar Bears International. Marine worked closely with me and my team of six polar bear zookeepers on all things polar bear, covering topics ranging from starting a training program, to training for medical behaviors, to effective ways to talk to zoo visitors about climate change and its effects on polar bears in the wild.

It was great to be able to collaborate with Marine and hear about her facilities and polar bears. I hope we were able to provide her with information to bring back to her team in Mulhouse to help further improve polar bear training and husbandry care there.  

Thanks to PBI for providing this opportunity to create a global connection for polar bears!

San Diego Zoo

By Nicki Boyd, Behavior Husbandry Manager, San Diego Zoo

Before Marine’s arrival, I connected with Allison at the Como Zoo about the training. We planned a schedule that would start with “beginning training” at the Como Zoo and then build with advanced training here at the San Diego Zoo.

San Diego Zoo polar bears learn to wear collar cams to help with wild polar bear research.

Marine, left, photographs San Diego Zoo keepers as they train a polar bear to cooperatively wear a collar camera. This will help scientists understand how wild polar bears in seasonal ice areas spend their time and energy when forced ashore. Photo by: Nicki Boyd 

During Marine’s time here, she learned about our GPS collar training and took part in a mock blood draw (useful for health care). Our nutritionist gave a PowerPoint on bear nutrition. Afterwards our public relations spokesperson coached Marine on public speaking and how to get her point across.

A polar bear at the training wall in the San Diego Zoo.

The San Diego Zoo’s polar bear training wall provides opportunities for educational outreach with the community. Photo by Nicki Boyd.

Over the next few days, Marine observed training sessions with polar bears at our public training wall. She was able to see how our polar bear keepers interact with the public, showing off bear behavior and weaving in conservation messages to inspire guests to reduce their carbon footprint. She also saw other training sessions, including how to give a polar bear an ultrasound—and spent time learning about our research priorities.

On Friday afternoon Marine gave a PowerPoint presentation to a group of animal care professionals and researchers. She focused on what they do at Mulhouse, what she learned at the Como Zoo and San Diego Zoo, and what she hopes to take back to France. She did a great job and everyone had good questions for her and we all learned and shared ideas.

I can see this time together will be very beneficial to a long-term relationship with Marine, the Mulhouse Zoo, Como Zoo and of course Polar Bears International.  I look forward to helping teach a class in October at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and getting to work with Marine and the team who helped put together our Train the Trainer polar bear program.

Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Garden

By Brice Lefaux, Director of the Mulhouse Zoo

I am proud that the Mulhouse Zoo could send Marine, one of our staff members, to gain information on polar bear medical training at the Como Zoo and San Diego Zoo. As zoos, we consider our role in polar bear conservation our top priority. The ability to get close to a polar bear in our institution will provide a well of knowledge that the training can tap into. This will allow scientists to acquire a better understanding of the polar bear‘s biology and physiology. After all, we can better conserve what we know. Moreover, being able to share ideas and knowledge on a global scale with a common aim was a profoundly human experience. I am proud that I can tell my staff, my visitors, my community, and myself that Mulhouse Zoo contributes to polar bear conservation through this program with Polar Bears International!

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