Beagle’s nose predicts few US polar bear cubs

CINCINNATI — A specially trained beagle’s smell test for polar bear pregnancies predicts there will be few new cubs for U.S. zoos this year — although a romantic trip to Pittsburgh apparently turned out well for a female bear in San Diego.

Animal conservation scientists at the Cincinnati Zoo worked with a dog trainer in Kansas to devise the test being tried out this year. Zoos around the country provided fecal samples that the 2-year-old dog named Elvis has been trained to sniff for proteins that scientists say are found only from pregnant polar bears.

Erin Curry of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation &Research of Endangered Wildlife said that with nearly all samples from 14 zoos checked, the Elvis test indicates this year’s cub class will be similar to last year’s, when only three cubs were born in U.S. zoos.

“Probably about the same,” Curry said. “We’re still waiting on a few (results).”

Confirming pregnancies in the massive bears has been difficult, and zoo officials say knowing would help them manage the threatened species. They can provide dens with extra bedding, step up video monitoring and line up staff and volunteers for around-the-clock “cub watches.”

Curry said Elvis detected no pregnant polar bears at the Cincinnati Zoo, but she declined to divulge results for other facilities. She noted that expectant bears can have one to three cubs per pregnancy. Last year, twins were born at the Toledo Zoo, while the other birth occurred at the Buffalo Zoo.

Curry said any cubs born this year would likely arrive over the next several weeks.

Officials at SeaWorld San Diego said they’re getting ready for the pitter-patter of little paws.

“A Polar Bear Cub May be on the Way!!!” SeaWorld announced Monday on its Facebook page. The posting said 18-year-old Szenja is “showing strong signs of maternity,” such as weight gain, finicky eating and making a nest in her den — and that Elvis thinks so, too. Szenja made a breeding visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo earlier in the year.

Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson said Elvis doesn’t think its female polar bears are pregnant, but zoo staffers are monitoring Aurora and Anana in their dens just in case, “since the dog is not 100 percent accurate.”

Curry said Elvis was 97 percent accurate in trials with control samples from bears including ones that had already given birth. Matt Skogen, a former police officer who runs Ironheart High Performance Working Dogs in Shawnee, Kan., said he’s confident in Elvis’ predictions after months of training.

Curry said if the Elvis test proves reliable, there could be efforts to refine it to see whether it’s possible for the beagle to detect pregnancies in very early stages.

Meanwhile, Elvis’ nose was the bear-er of bad news for the Kansas City Zoo near his home, along with Cincinnati. Both got negative results.

“Every year we’ve been hopeful,” Curry said of Cincinnati’s Berit. The 14-year-old female has yet to birth a cub, and Curry said zoo staffers will meet soon to consider steps to try to increase fertility.

More in Local News

Man suspected of robbing Rite Aids

Mill Creek police released a sketch Monday evening of the suspect.

Police looking for Lynnwood bank robber

The robber did not flash a weapon to the teller at a U.S. Bank.

Here’s how much property taxes will rise to pay for schools

The owner of a $350,000 home is looking at a property-tax hike of nearly $300 this year.

Everett man accused of causing his baby’s brain damage

He told police he shook his son to get him to stop crying, and the boy slipped out of his hands.

At one point she dropped out; now she’s graduation-bound

Anita Bradford-Diaz has had her share of setbacks, but they only seem to increase her motivation.

Employee threats caused lockdown at Arlington elementary

Arlington Police said all students and staff were.

Residents are helping turn Casino Road in a new direction

An initiative backed by a $700,000 grant goes to the community for solutions to the area’s challenges.

With an immigrant’s help, kids reach out to Filipino children

Marysville students drew and sent portraits. Thanks to a video, they got to see the reaction.

Live in Edmonds? Hate speeders?

Edmonds has $35,000 to address local residents’ concerns about speeding in their… Continue reading

Most Read