An Olympic Spotlight for Polar Bears

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Last night, while watching snow boarders, ice skaters, and skiers hurtle themselves down and across frozen surfaces, I was excited to see the spotlight shared with the most amazing of “winter Olympians,” the polar bear. The piece focused on the polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, and scientists supported by Polar Bears International (PBI) who study them.

PBI has been the San Diego Zoo’s partner in polar bear conservation since our program began six years ago (see post Zoos and Polar Bear Conservation Research). It has been instrumental in providing resources for our research, as well as connecting our researchers to polar bear habitat and the scientists studying polar bears in their Arctic home. Since our relationship with PBI began, we’ve seen the crisis in polar bear habitat intensify, as climate change-driven sea ice losses have accelerated, and the behavioral and physiological impacts of these losses have taken their toll on the bears. The alliance between PBI and the Zoo has facilitated our ability to keep pace with the conservation crisis in the Arctic and helps us stay on the front lines of conservation research that is tailored to the zoo environment.

PBI hosted the film crew, took them out on the Tundra Buggy tour, and met with our collaborating scientists who also work hand-in-hand with PBI. Buggy 1 is the mobile lab from which scientists can observe the bears and broadcast their observations to classrooms all over North America. This outreach enables kids who may never see snow get face to face with polar bears and the Arctic! This experience is, no doubt, impactful and helps kids understand why we need to save polar bears and what we need to do to accomplish this.

Please visit PBI’s Web site to see the polar bears of Churchill in action!

Megan Owen is a conservation program specialist for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.