On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, you’re invited to join zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in celebrating International Polar Bear Day. Initiated by AZA conservation partner, Polar Bears International (PBI), this event takes place every year to help spread the message of what steps we can take to help save the species, which is being negatively impacted by the loss of sea ice caused by climate change.
In May 2008, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, making it the first animal species to receive protection due to threats from climate change. In Canada, polar bears are listed as a “Species of Special Concern,” and in Russia, polar bears are listed as a “Species of Concern.”
Biologists estimate there are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left in their natural range. The bears rely on sea ice in order to hunt their main diet of ringed seals. When the sea ice melts earlier in the year and re-freezes later, this means that there is less time for the polar bears to feed on the seals’ rich blubber, which helps sustain them through the summer months as well as enables them to nourish their young until the next feeding season. In 2012 alone, summer ice losses in the Arctic were larger than the size of the United States. Without the sea ice, polar bears cannot survive.
Scientists also predict that the world will lose 2/3 of its polar bear population in the next 40 years if we stay on our current path and do not make any changes in reducing greenhouse gases to help slow the loss of Arctic ice.
To help bring awareness to this very important conservation issue, a number of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are hosting events in recognition of International Polar Bear Day. To find out if your local facility is participating, please be sure to call the zoo or aquarium in advance for more information about event details. For a list of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums in your area, please visit http://www.aza.org/findzooaquarium/
Here are some examples of International Polar Bear Day activities taking place at AZA-accredited facilities:
North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo is teaming up with Polar Bears International (PBI), the world’s leading polar bear conservation group, to celebrate International Polar Bear Day on Wednesday, February 27.
As a member of PBI’s Arctic Ambassador Center network, the N.C. Zoo is asking the Piedmont area to take part in the “Thermostat Challenge” to help raise awareness of how our daily actions impact the polar bear’s sea ice habitat.
In support of the effort on February 27, N.C. Zoo polar bear keepers will staff an information table from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. at the Seal Exhibit to inform visitors about the plight of wild polar bears whose icy hunting grounds are being lost due to climate change.
The zoo is also partnering with Progress Energy for the second annual “Energy Efficiency Campaign.” Area families can fill out a home energy report available on the Progress Energy website at www.progress-energy.com and be entered to win a one-year family membership from the N.C. Zoological Society good for a year’s free zoo admission and other benefits. The Energy Efficiency Campaign will kick off on International Polar Bear Day and run until Earth Day, April 22.
PBI and the N.C. Zoo are also inviting families, schools and businesses to “Bundle Up For Polar Bears” and join them in adjusting their thermostats a few degrees on February 27 to lower carbon emissions and help save polar bears. The public is also encouraged to purchase and install programmable thermostats or take additional steps to help conserve energy.
As a member of PBI’s Arctic Ambassador Center network, the North Carolina Zoo is one of more than 50 leading zoos, museums, science centers and aquariums that conduct programs to educate the public about polar bears and climate change and that play a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their communities.
Renowned polar bear scientist Andrew Derocher, PhD, is making a special trip to the Louisville Zoo in celebration of International Polar Bear Day on February 27. A leading polar bear researcher and author of “Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior,” Dr. Derocher will offer a free captivating and inspiring talk on the fate of an Arctic icon, the polar bear, at Bellarmine University on February 27 at 7 p.m. in Frazier Hall. His book will be available for $20 in the Zoo’s gift shop prior to the event. Lecture attendees can make a minimum donation of $20 to The Louisville Zoo for its animal conservation fund and receive a copy of Dr. Derocher’s book.
Dr. Derocher recently released a synopsis of an urgent paper he co-authored with 11 other international authors titled “Rapid Ecosystem Change and Polar Bear Conservation.” The paper urges policy makers to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears in a worst-case climate change scenario. Dr. Derocher and the others have studied the effect of climate change on polar bear populations. The paper points out that one bad ice year could leave hundreds of Hudson Bay polar bears stranded on land and says that “such an event could erase half of a population in a single year.”
Dr. Derocher is a professor of biology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada and a longtime scientific advisor to Polar Bears International (PBI). He holds a B.S. from the University of British Columbia (1983), M.S. from the University of Alberta (1987), and a PhD from the University of Alberta (1991). His field research focuses on polar bears in the Canadian Arctic and the polar bears of Hudson Bay. He has also worked with polar bears in Svalbard, Norway through the Norwegian Polar Institute. Over the course of more than 20 years studying polar bears, Dr. Derocher’s research has focused on the limiting and regulating factors of polar bear populations including habitat use, harvest effects, and predator-prey relationships. His current work includes assessment of the effects of climate change and toxic chemicals on polar bears.
Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo
The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, encourages guests to visit the Zoo on Wednesday, February 27, to reflect on the threatened status of polar bears and learn how to help protect their environment. The event, which takes place from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., is in honor of International Polar Bear Day and will highlight the effects that climate change has on these magnificent creatures.
As guests enter the Great Bear Wilderness underwater viewing area and Hamill Family Play Zoo, they can write a pledge to reduce their carbon footprint on life-size polar bear statues. The first 300 people to make their pledge will receive a compact fluorescent light bulb, donated by the Consumer Utility Board.
Children will also be able to participate in polar bear-themed activities at Hamill Family Play Zoo, including tracing and decorating their carbon footprint. Additionally, youngsters will be able to engage in hands-on and minds-on learning in an activity that features helping miniature polar bear figures navigate ice floes in a sensory bin filled with water.
Zookeepers will be on hand to host a special Zoo Chat at 11:30 a.m. and share interesting facts about Brookfield Zoo’s polar bears, including Aussie, a 27-year-old male. Also, Zoo guests who purchase an item from any of the Zoo’s gift shops will receive a free reusable bag. Additional reusable bags will be available for purchase.
CZS will also take part in the Thermostat Challenge, an effort to raise awareness about how daily actions impact polar bears and their sea ice habitat. CZS will participate by lowering the temperature of the Zoo’s indoor non-animal buildings by two degrees in order to reduce carbon emissions. The Thermostat Challenge is sponsored by Polar Bears International (PBI), the world’s leading polar bear conservation group.
Zoo guests are also encouraged to join the Thermostat Challenge. Additional activities that could help slow the pace of climate change and its impact include swapping out incandescent (regular) light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs, buying food grown locally to reduce the need for transporting food thousands of miles, and driving a fuel-efficient car to help reduce air pollution.
Contributing writers: Rod Hackney, North Carolina Zoo; Kyle Shepherd, Louisville Zoo; and Sondra Katzen, Chicago Zoological Society – Brookfield Zoo