For decades scientists have been watching the plight of the polar bear. Rivaling the mighty Kodiak bear for the title of the largest land predator in the world, polar bears numbers dwindle by the year. According to RIA Novosti, researchers in Yekaterinburg, Russia believe they may be able to help. Their plan is both audacious and strange, and will involve the participation of another large bear species. In cooperation with Russian zoos, the zoologists will attempt to use artificial insemination to impregnate a grizzly sow with a polar bear cub. It is believed that such a procedure has never been done before.
Polar bears evolved millions of years ago from grizzlies, and recent studies suggest that the two species successfully interbred in the past. Project researchers say it is likely that a female grizzly will be capable of carrying a polar bear cub to term. The experiment will involve two animals in the Yekaterinburg zoo. Genetic material will be gathered from a 15-year-old female polar bear and a 16-year old male of the same species. The surrogate will be a grizzly sow named Vetka, who had already undergone artificial insemination for grizzly cubs previously and produced healthy young.
Even as polar bears decline in the wild, zoologists find it difficult to coax the animals to breed in captivity. Much like pandas, the bears are more than a bit shy when it comes to mating outside of their native habitat. If successful, researchers hope that they can use artificial insemination to produce more polar bears. A spokesman reported that the group is currently in contact with a number of Russian zoos to provide homes for the newborn animals.
Estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund peg the global polar bear population at around 25,000.
File image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service