GENETIC PARADOX: HOW AN ARTIFICIAL POPULATION OF POLAR BEARS IS CREATED
The conservation of the polar bear is one of the most urgent problems facing the national zoological community. The number of species in nature is steadily decreasing due to the melting of Arctic ice caused by global climate change, Arctic pollution, as well as illegal hunting. Moreover, there is the pressing issue of orphaned polar bear cubs under the age of two years left without a mother and unable to survive independently in the conditions of the far North.
Today the largest terrestrial predator that has no enemies in a wild is in a vulnerable position. In order to preserve this unique species from extinction a complex of necessary serious measures – environmental programs, ecological education and legislative support is needed. The main task of zoos is to create a stable and genetically diverse population of the species, thereby providing a special reserve – animals, which, if necessary, can be returned to the natural habitat to restore the natural population. However, the creation of an artificial population of polar bears is a delicate and extremely laborious process that requires the specialists’ great efforts.
It is important not only to create optimal conditions for the polar bears keeping, to provide them with proper care and the opportunity to breed - although all these aims are certainly a necessary part of the species conservation program. There is always the danger of inbreeding and degeneration, so experts carefully monitor which particular individuals are combined for reproduction. Thus, animals derived from nature have the greatest genetic value: they are a kind of “new blood” for an artificial population.
The process of pair formation is of great importance, as it directly affects the genetic diversity and hence the future of the polar bears’ artificial population. There is always a danger of inbreeding and degeneration; that is why the experts carefully monitor which specimens exactly are connected for reproduction. Thus, the animals derived from nature, have the greatest genetic value: they are a kind of "new blood" for the artificial population.
In order to coordinate the activities of domestic zoos and create a stable zoo population of polar bears, a separate environmental program was developed in 2016 within the framework of the Union of Zoos and Aquariums of Russia. Thanks to its implementation, a significant success has been achieved: to form a pair of natural bears in Izhevsk zoo and get offspring, as well as to save two orphaned cubs.
An important step in this work will be the construction of a special enclosure complex, in which it will be possible to place the cubs rescued from the wild that have left the bears breeding program, as well as the specimens of old age. The project of this complex was developed according to the recommendations of Moscow zoo specialists. Hopefully it will be built and begin to accept the first animals in the near future.
Today the descendants of the so-called Kazan line of polar bears live in Russia and many leading zoos of Europe. In order to ensure the genetic diversity of the artificial population of the species, it is necessary to create and develop other lines. This work will be most effective only if as many domestic zoos as possible will participate in the program. Moscow zoo, which has the vast experience in bears keeping and breeding, is ready to advise colleagues, share its valuable experience, as well as provide comprehensive support. It is very important that modern zoos cease to perceive the polar bear solely as a valuable and spectacular specimen in the collection, and realize their responsibility for the future of this species and will be ready for a difficult but incredibly important work – the work of creating a genetically diverse artificial polar bear population.