Winnipeg polar bears poop glitter for research at Assiniboine Zoo

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Winnipeg polar bears poop glitter for research at Assiniboine Zoo – May 24, 2016

WINNIPEG — The Assiniboine Park Zoo is adding glitter to its research, hoping sparkles could help teach their team more about the animals.

READ MORE: Winnipeg’s newest polar bear cubs named

For the past two years polar bears living at the zoo have had a special ingredient added to their diet – glitter.

“They’ll basically make a patty and put a teaspoon of glitter in it and fold it up and mix it in and they feed it to the bears,” said Dr. Stephen Peterson, head of conservation and research at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Several different colours of glitter are being used to track fecal samples from each of the bears. Research team members add glitter to ground horse meat which then gets fed to the animals. Each bear is assigned its own color of glitter which allows zoo keepers to determine which samples belong to which bear.

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Currently, eight out of the nine bears at the exhibit are fed glitter. Zoo keepers are using regular non-toxic, craft glitter which is said to be completely safe for the animals to ingest. 

“We’re looking internally to say ‘okay when we need to take orphans out of the wild and have them here at the zoo, how do we make sure that what we are doing gives them the best chance at being well adjusted,'” he said. “We are trying to find out in a way that is as minimally invasive as possible.”

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The samples are used to track what is going on inside the bear’s bodies and within their systems. They are also used to track stress hormone levels and see how the bears are adjusting to life inside the zoo and in captivity.

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Samples start getting collected from the time they are first brought to the zoo until the animals reach sexual maturity.

“By looking at hormone profiles over time in captive bears we can go and look at scat that we collect along the coast of the Hudson Bay and we can learn a lot from that,” said Dr. Peterson. “What we can do in the zoo to help manage populations and maintain populations in the wild… where we really want polar bears to be forever.”

According to the research team, this method of tracking poop is a much less invasive way of testing these animals then having to take blood samples.

The samples collected are frozen and eventually shipped to research facilities in Toronto, Guelph, and the United States.

Samples of the poop are gathered by zoo keepers and kept in a freezer until they can be shipped off for testing and eventually used to help teams around North America learn as much as they can about these bears as possible.

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