Posts Tagged ‘Polar Bears’

PBI Leadership Camp — Blog 5

by | October 22nd, 2011

Absolute Commitment – A Group blog

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Patty Young – Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Philip Fensterer – Oregon Zoo

Jennifer Funk – Pittsburgh Zoo

As we wrapped up our week out at the Tundra Buggy Lodge we spent our last full day in lecture bringing our time on the tundra full circle.

The Tundra Buggy Lodge -- Camp Headquarters

This was brought home to us as multiple polar bears circled our lodge while we learned about the daily and long term operations of Polar Bears International and what it means to be stewards of our planet.   One definition of Stewardship is the careful management of something entrusted to one’s care.  This is a very relevant definition and strikes to the major point of what is occurring on our planet due to climate change.   We are stewards of this planet and the life and systems that operate on it.   If we are not going to help then who is?  Another major part of our day was conducting our webcast to our own institutions and families.  This was a great opportunity to directly communicate with colleagues back home about our time at camp, what we learned, and describe our experiences. This was followed by a Skype with Robert Buchanan (President of PBI).   He reminded us of why we came here and of our obligation to future generations.

A farwell sunset from the tundra

Leaving camp we are now armed with the tools and knowledge we need to step out and create change. The first challenge we gave ourselves as leaders began at camp and was reducing our own carbon footprint for the week at the lodge.  We took on the no shower eco-challenge. This allowed for the conservation of many resources while adding to the aroma and ambiance of the experience! The most encouraging and supportive part of this final day was getting the opportunity to meet with our Polar Bears International facilitators one on one.  We used this time to finalize our forward action plans for change.   Putting our thoughts on paper, then discussing them as a group helped them to really resonate with us.  We are leaving the tundra this week feeling motivated and confident.  We can make a change.  We are committed to make a change.  We will make a change!

Change is needed!

PBI Leadership Camp — Blog 4

by | October 10th, 2011

Touching the Taiga – Making Connections that Matter

Victor Alm – Oakland Zoo, Zoological Manager

Today we went out on the Tundra Buggy and took a drive to the transitional forest (Taiga); it borders the tundra where we have so far spent most of our time during leadership camp.  On our way there, we were lucky enough to see a gray wolf along with an adult male caribou.

Timber Wolf from Afar

We were also allowed briefly off the buggy, as there were no polar bears in the area, and walked around to experience the landscape. It was incredible as the ground was very spongy and full of the most beautiful mosses, lichens, and cracks in the ground called frost heaves.

The Terrain of the Taiga

However, we are not just here to sight see but to experience the landscape that is used by the female polar bear, for creating maternal dens.  The females do this by digging into low banks and ridges made of peat that supports small trees.   The trees and their roots give stability to the den on the top as well as the hard layer of permafrost (ground that is continuously frozen) on the bottom. With warming temperatures in the arctic, there has been alteration of weather patterns creating a warmer drier environment that is more susceptible to fire and the melting of permafrost. Both of these changes effect the den of the polar bear, making them less stable and prone to collapse.  This can kill bears or cause them to abandon their dens. This has the potential to cause even greater stress on the polar bear population near Churchill, which is already loosing numbers due to loss of their productive sea ice.  On top of this, it has been shown that the melting of permafrost can release another type of trapped gas called methane, which can amplify the warming effects in the atmosphere already seen from increased carbon emissions.

Polar Bear Migrating from the Coast

However, there is still hope and simple things we can do to help such as taking public transportation or carpooling to work. By doing this, you can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, such as carbon, that are going into the atmosphere.   When small actions are taken collectively, they can be very effective. But, if you want to cause a more lasting and meaningful change in the long-term, you should ask for higher fuel efficiency standards for our vehicles.     This is just one way we can have meaningful impacts towards stabilizing the tundra and taiga ecosystems, polar bear populations, as well as the numerous other ecosystems and animals that face habitat alteration due to a warming climate.

Other examples have been seen with numerous local AAZK (American Association of Zoo Keepers) chapters:  group tree planting or incentives for using home energy efficiency kits.  Check out my next post coming soon which talks about our final day in leadership camp.  Also, continue to follow our group blog from leadership camp

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/programs/pbi-leadership-camps/groups/keeper-leadership-camp-1

 

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 3

by | October 5th, 2011

Climate Change:  The Extreme Example of Human Wildlife Conflict

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

On several occasions at Climate Change Leadership camp we have discussed the human wildlife conflict in regards to polar bears.  The first time was in the town of Churchill, Manitoba with Natural Resource officer Bob Windser who works for Manitoba Conservation.

Bob Windser talking about human wildlife conflict

Bob is in charge of the Bear Alert Program in and around Churchill where they deal with the potential interactions between the residents and the migrating polar bears.  The main reasons for interaction are because polar bears are passing by on their migration north to meet the sea ice (which they depend on for their main food source of seals) and hunger (if they are in poor physical condition).  The response to polar bears can take many forms from deterrence to dispatch.  Deterrence is the preferred method and takes several non-lethal forms.  The first and preferred methods are used to drive bears from out and around town using noise emitting firearms called screamers, bangers, and crackers.  The second is to use paintball guns and white paint on those that are not fazed by noise.  The third is to chemically immobilize bears or trap bears and bring them to a specially designed polar bear holding facility where they can spend several days to a month, depending on the circumstances of capture.  For example, a sow with cubs would only spend a few days.  The polar bears are relocated thirty to forty miles outside of town and if possible back onto the sea ice.  The other Non-preferred method is to put the bears down. It is reserved for situations where the safety of the residents, tourists, or officers is at risk.

Bear Alert Holding Building

Over the last few years, officials have seen an increase in the number of polar bears that have gone  through their program.  More bears are also migrating through  and around town, approximately one month earlier than in years past.  This is unusual because once polar bears leave the sea ice in late spring/early summer, they tend to fast for several months and wait for the return of the sea ice, generally not interested in eating/hunting unless they come across something opportunistically. For a normal, happy, and healthy bear, fasting is not a problem.  But Natural Resource Officers are not always seeing healthy bears; instead, they are seeing them in declining condition.  Due to the increasing sea ice loss  from overall rising global temperature (caused by accumulations of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) bears are having to spend more time on land fasting and less time on the ice fattening up on seals.

Some say our changing climate could be seen as the ultimate trigger for a human and wildlife conflict; not only with polar bears, but potentially with numerous other species that will be trying to adapt and move as their habitats and natural behavior is altered.

Polar Bear waiting for the sea ice to return

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 2

by | October 5th, 2011

Absolute Necessity — A Group Blog

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager, Oakland Zoo

Patty Young -Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Philip Fensterer — Oregon Zoo

Jennifer Funk — Pittsburgh Zoo

We had an opportunity to Skype with  Dr. Stephen Amstrup, senior scientist for Polar Bears International, this morning.   WOW!!! What a personable, professional, and knowledgeable man.   Thank you again Dr. Amstrup for your time today and thank you for reminding us how important the ice is to the polar bear.

Polar Bear off the Ice

Opening a discussion about climate change with the fact that sea ice is an absolute necessity to polar bears is a great tool.   The wild polar bear must eat seals and the seal cannot be caught except by ambush from an ice platform.   Despite the evidence that sea ice is disappearing for the polar bear the argument of  uncertainty versus reliability continues to be a hot data topic in the climate change debate.  Although our climate clearly has been warming, we are still seeing natural variation in our weather causing times of both warm and cold weather patterns.   This unfortunately has instilled a certain amount of doubt  about the reality of climate change.  However,  the laws of physics require that as the amounts of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere rise, heat trapping gas will cause the earth to warm.  Without the mitigation of greenhouse gases polar bears will be part of our history and not our future.   Alternatively, by reducing  greenhouse gases we can make a difference with the sea ice levels needed for polar bears as well as make a difference to the many other species tied to climate change.

Arctic Fox -- One of many that could be affected by Climate Change

This is a powerful message that needs a powerful and effective approach when being delivered.   One method we discussed today was using personal connection to our own lives and with those whom we speak with to convey the importance of this message.  We experienced this method first hand today when we had a no cameras allowed polar bear moment.  After seeing the bear on the tundra outside of the buggy, we were asked to safely stick our heads out the windows, close our eyes, feel the wind on our face, smell the air, and know that this is what the bear is also experiencing.  Then, we were asked to think about that bear being gone forever, not just this bear today but all polar bears forever.   This was a very moving and emotional for all of us.  As leaders, it is an absolute necessity for us to leave this camp and take steps to create change in our communities

Stay tuned for more Blogs from Climate Change Leadership Camp.

 

What Is PBI And Why Should We Know About It?

by | September 23rd, 2011

Victor Alm — Zoological Manager

Whether you agree that it is occurring or not, you have most likely have heard about global warming or the changes in our planet’s climate. But, what many of us associated with the Oakland Zoo may not have heard of, especially since we do not have polar bears in our collection, is an organization called PBI. PBI stands for Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of the polar bear and polar bear habitat through research, stewardship, and education around the world.

Polar bear on ice sheet

Now why would I bring up the terms of global warming/climate change and polar bears together? Well since some of the most convincing and evident examples of a warming climate are seen in the arctic and the arctic sea ice, one of the main habitat components for the polar bear. The two are linked and are running headlong towards each other very quickly and with some potentially devastating results.  Polar bears rely heavily on the arctic sea ice for movement, breeding, hunting, and to a smaller degree denning for the birth of their cubs.   When you combine this with a rapid decline of this sea ice (since the 1980s), due to a warming climate, you start to see the problem and why the polar bear is now listed as a threatened species under the endangered species act.

So, why am I telling you all about this and why should those of us associated with the Oakland Zoo care about climate change, polar bears, and PBI? Polar bears, despite being on the front lines of the climate change debate and often the poster child of the environmental climate change movement are not the only species that could be affected by climate change. A changing climate has implications for numerous species in many habitat types all over the world.

The Lesser Flamingo

For example, the Lesser Flamingo, a species we exhibit here at the Oakland Zoo, are being or will be affected by climate change through loss of or alterations in the size and quality of their wetland habitats.  Flamingos, not unlike the polar bear, are dependent on their preferred environment for food, breeding, and raising their young. Similar stories can be heard about salmon, penguins, sea turtles, and numerous migratory birds. So despite being focused on climate change matters related to polar bears, PBI and the strategies and tips they endorse to help mitigate climate change, make sense and can have lasting effects for a lot of other animals.

To help reach their goal of having a measurable impact in the preservation of the polar bears artic habitat by 2015, Polar Bear International is sponsoring PBI leadership camps.   These camps are reaching out to those individuals who want to advocate personally or through their employer for conservation and sustainable lifestyles that help combat the effects of climate change.  Campers will gain knowledge about climate change and its impacts first hand from scientists, educators, and community members that will transform them into climate change/Arctic ambassadors that are inspired and empowered to make a difference for polar bears and all species that face our changing world.

Victor Alm -- Zoological Manager/Arctic Ambassador

I am lucky enough to be one of those campers and will be attending climate change leadership camp in early October.  I hope to return with the knowledge and drive to get the Oakland Zoo involved in the campaign to educate and make measurable impacts for the preservation of  polar bears and the numerous other species that are grappling with the issue of climate change.   I feel that our world continues to struggle and grapple with the numerous issues that affect wildlife around the globe such as invasive species, climate change, pollution, habitat change/destruction, and exploitation. However, I strongly feel that you do not need to look far and wide to grapple these global problems. Through local efforts and local involvement in these issues we can address and tackle them one small step at a time. I hope that through my own efforts in local wildlife rehabilitation, head starting, and conservation along with recycling and reusing I can lead by example and take one small personal step. I hope through my continuing education on climate change and the messages and action plans that come from my time at PBI camp that I can take another step and bring many others with me.

To learn more about Polar Bears International, Climate Change, Climate Change Leadership camp, and some things you can do to help in this issue please visit www.polarbearsinternational.org.   Also please follow me and my experiences at camp by checking the Oakland Zoo Blog (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog) as well as the camp blog found at the Polar Bears International website listed above.