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Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo Team on First Ever Effort to Help Polar Bear Population

April 23, 2019
Joseph Darcangelo (608)266-4732
County Executive

Zoos Partner on Earth Week Project to Give Female Polar Bear at Dane County Henry Vilas Chance at Having Cubs this Year


Three zoos including Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo are part of an effort this week to help the polar bear species. Under a partnership between the Brookfield Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Henry Vilas, artificial insemination is being done between a male bear at the Brookfield Zoo and Berit – the female polar bear at Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo. What’s unique about this Earth Week experience is it’s the first time fresh and not frozen "specimen" is being used, with the hopes that improves the chances of fertilization.


Regular training with the polar bears at Henry Vilas Zoo helps the Zoo to participate in a cutting edge artificial insemination effort with 20-year-old female Berit. Because Berit’s future mate, Nuniq, is still too young to breed, this procedure will give her a chance of having cubs later this year. The process incorporates voluntary injections for hormone treatment prior to the procedure as well as training for successful denning behavior. Cincinnati Zoo’s CREW (Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife) provides the hormones and protocol and is coordinating the procedures with both the male and female polar bears. Brookfield Zoo’s male polar bear, Hudson, will provide the sample that is used in the process.


To date, artificial insemination has never been successful in polar bears, so a pregnancy from this procedure would be the first of its kind. This is the first time however that fresh "specimen" has been collected and used to artificially inseminate a polar bear at another institution. Typically, the "material" is frozen but it’s believed using fresh "matter" in this case will improve chances that Berit has a successful fertilization.


"The ability to participate in this project has been extremely useful to furthering knowledge that will contribute to reproductive success with polar bears in zoos and the wild in the future," Henry Vilas Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz said.


"We are proud to continue to be a part of projects such as these that assist in conservation and education efforts involving this keystone species," Dane County Executive Joe Parisi added. "There’s no better time than Earth Week to do something special for the species most impacted by climate change – polar bears."


Want to help polar bears and other animals in the wild? The Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo Earth Day celebration - Party for the Planet - is happening this Saturday, April 27th. You’ll be able to learn more about polar bears and other important species, make a pledge to take a conservation action, get close to nature by climbing a tree with Dane County’s Arborists as well as contribute in other ways!