What do a two-year-old Beagle named Elvis and pregnant Polar Bears have in common? Scientists at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) have brought them together to detect pregnancy in Polar Bears living in zoos.
Traditional pregnancy detection methods like hormone monitoring and ultrasounds don’t work well in Polar Bears. With climate change threatening wild Polar Bear populations, CREW’s staff is getting creative to help save this important species, and they’ve found a possible helper in Elvis the Beagle.
Working with professional dog trainer Matt Skogen, CREW is trying to determine if the sensitive noses of canines like Elvis can distinguish a pregnant Polar Bear from a non-pregnant Bear simply by smelling fecal samples.
“This is the first time sniffer dogs have been used in biomedical research as it relates to any wildlife species, making this project truly one-of-a-kind,” said CREW’s Dr. Erin Curry. Currently, Elvis is demonstrating 97% accuracy in positive identification of samples from pregnant females – which is not only incredible but nearly as accurate as over-the-counter human pregnancy tests.
Since January, Matt has used more than 200 training samples collected from Polar Bears of known pregnancy status to help Elvis refine his detection technique.
Last month, Elvis’s skills were put to the test. He tested samples from 17 female Polar Bears whose pregnancy status is unknown. The zoos are eager to know if these females are pregnant so they can monitor these Polar Bears and make preparations. Pregnant Bears could be isolated with minimal disruption while being closely monitored by camera 24/7 in anticipation of a birth, whereas non-pregnant females would remain swimming and socializing all winter with their exhibitmates.
Read more about Elvis and Polar Bears below the fold.