The grant from the Columbus Zoo's Conservation Fund will help scientists learn more about polar bear denning behavior in Norway and Alaska. Here, members of the research team erect a hidden camera system to record polar bear activity. Photo copyright BJ Kirschhoffer/Polar Bears International.

© Columbus Zoo Supports Polar Bear Research

1/8/2017 7:33:22 AM

Columbus Zoo Supports Polar Bear Research

One of the most critical times in a polar bear’s life cycle is the denning period, when vulnerable young cubs depend completely on their moms for food and protection.

PBI is grateful for an $18,000 grant from the Columbus Zoo’s Conservation Fund for our Maternal Den Baseline Study. The research will add to our understanding of polar bear behavior during the time period when moms with young cubs emerge from the safety of their snow dens.

“The grant will help support den research in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and Longyearbyen, Norway,” said Geoff York, PBI staff scientist and senior director of conservation. “It will help define baseline behavior for post-denning bears and provide anecdotal information on human disturbances, adding to the body of research we’ve already conducted in Alaska.”

PBI has studied approximately 30 den sites in Alaska over the past 14 years. The research to date helped answer basic questions about polar bear behavior at these sites, including: 

  • How long it takes moms and cubs to emerge from maternal dens
  • How long polar bear families remain at den sites before journeying to the sea ice
  • How the bears spend their time after emerging
  • How sensitive denning polar bears are to human disturbances

Currently, scientists lack data on denning behavior in other parts of the world where polar bears range. The additional observations in Norway and in discussion for Canada will give clarity to den emergence parameters and help define natural polar bear denning behavior range-wide.

“This non-invasive monitoring can also provide one indicator of response to a changing climate for a critical aspect of long-term polar bear survival: successful denning,” York said. “We’re grateful to the Columbus Zoo for their support.”

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