Maryland Zoo artificially impregnates female polar bear

Posted at 1:51 PM, Sep 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-27 13:51:47-04

After the loss of their male polar bear, The Maryland Zoo was looking for new ways to get their female polar bear pregnant. 

The zoo announced on Wednesday they have teamed up with the Cincinnati Zoo's Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) to participate in reproductive research. 

In an effort by both zoo's, 21-year-old Anoki from the Maryland Zoo has been artificially inseminated.

“Anoki and Magnet were paired for many years before he died, but with no success. Last year, the research group at CREW reached out to us about performing artificial insemination (AI) with Anoki,” said Erin Cantwell, mammal collection and conservation manager for the Zoo. “Since poor reproduction is one of the biggest factors affecting the aging zoo polar bear population, the opportunity to participate in ground breaking research and contribute to the overall knowledge of polar bear reproduction was very appealing to us.”

Anoki was the fifth polar bear to be artificially inseminated by CREW, and they are hoping she will be their first success. 

"She was an excellent candidate for this procedure- she is healthy, appears to be cycling normally, and female polar bears can produce cubs well into their twenties” said Dr. Erin Curry, reproductive physiologist at Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for CREW.

The AI procedure uses hormone therapy to help the polar bear come into estrus. In the weeks leading up to the AI, Maryland Zoo animal care staff worked hard with Anoki to train her to voluntarily accept her injections of the hormones. 

Anoki has been paired with Hudson, a male from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. She got the procedure done, and now they are waiting on results. 

Polar bear reproduction can get complicated because the species usually breed in the spring, but the embryo does not become implanted for four to six months later. 

“While we know the chances of a successful polar bear pregnancy are slim, we are still hopeful. To this end we are going proceed with denning as if we had seen natural breeding,” continued Cantwell. “During denning, Anoki will be off exhibit with access to a secluded den. In an effort to mimic denning in the wild and isolate her from outside activity as much as possible, we limit the sights, smells and sounds to which she is regularly exposed. We need to do everything we can to provide an undisturbed place for Anoki to feel safe enough to give birth if she is indeed pregnant.”

Since there are no pregnancy tests for polar bears, the zoo's are waiting to see what happens during Anoki's denning process.