Polar Bear Participation in Voluntary Blood Collection at Brookfield Zoo

One of the best parts of being an animal care specialist is having positive, trusting relationships with the animals we work with. Here at Great Bear Wilderness, we developed an important behavior, voluntary blood collection, with our male polar bear, Hudson. This behavior allows animal care specialists and veterinary staff to closely monitor his health. Additionally, it allows us to participate in scientific research programs directed through the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan.

To get started, animal care staff developed a training plan and our maintenance department installed a sleeve where Hudson can place his paw. While training this behavior we took small steps throughout the process to make sure Hudson knew what we were asking and to participate confidently. The first step was to have Hudson sit in front of the sleeve in holding. Since polar bears are very curious, Hudson immediately started to place his paw into the sleeve. When Hudson would place his paw in the sleeve specialists would sound a dog whistle, to let him know that is the behavior we want, and following the dog whistle, we would reward him with peanut butter on a spoon.  

While training, animal care specialists used some of his favorite food rewards, such as chunks of meat and peanut butter, to keep the training sessions positive. Once Hudson was placing his paw in the sleeve it was important to desensitize him to the following stimuli:  sound and the feeling of a hair trimmer, the smell of rubbing alcohol, being touched by gauze, and also being “poked” with a blunt needle.

During the training sessions, we added a second animal care specialist as well as a veterinary technician to train the final blood collection. Veterinary technicians were able to use a Doppler ultrasound to detect blood flow in veins to determine the best location on the paw for needle placement.

Carnivore care specialists started training Hudson in June 2019. Together, along with Veterinary Services staff, we were able to successfully collect blood from Hudson voluntarily in December 2019.  

Brookfield Zoo is an AZA-accredited zoo and is a participant in the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan. With the future of the wild polar bear population being more and more threatened by climate change and the loss of arctic sea ice, it is crucial to do everything possible to ensure the survival of the species so that future generations are able to experience seeing these iconic North American mammals. Polar bears are currently listed as a vulnerable species on the US Endangered Species Act and conservation actions are considered necessary for their survival, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

- Erin Hennessy and Christy Azzarello-Dole, Senior Animal Care Specialists – Large Carnivores, Chicago Zoological Society

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Posted: 11/1/2020 9:53:31 PM by Sean Keeley


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