Hellabrunn Zoo has been supporting Polar Bears International (PBI), a non-profit organisation dedicated solely to the protection of endangered polar bears, for many years. Each autumn, Polar Bears International’s Bear Tracker programme tracks the movements of female polar bears in the Hudson Bay region by fitting them with GPS tracking collars, thus providing an insight into the secret world of bears on the polar sea. To mark International Polar Bear Day, Hellabrunn is raising awareness about this important conservation project and has recently upgraded its female-only polar bear facility at the zoo. Since 2014, Hellabrunn Zoo has been supporting the Bear Tracker programme, which collects important scientific data on habitat use, distribution and movements of polar bears in Canada's Hudson Bay. The researchers on location first sedate and medically examine a sampling of polar bears, after which they are fitted with GPS collars. The collars are very light for a polar bear and are programmed to automatically fall off after about 14 months. In addition to tracking the routes used, the collars also have a special sensor that indicates how much time the animals spend in the water and how the ice retreat affects their lives.
Hellabrunn Zoo has been designated an official Arctic Ambassador Center by the PBI for its commitment to polar bear conservation. The zoo offers many educational and informative experiences and regularly hosts lectures on life in the polar world.
"The polar bear has become a symbol of our changing environment as the animal’s habitat is melting away from under their paws more and more every year," says Rasem Baban, zoological director of Hellabrunn Zoo, highlighting the importance of the project. "As a scientifically-led zoo, an important part of our educational mission is to raise awareness about the importance of preserving this habitat and the need to protect the endangered animals."
Regular monitoring of polar bear routes
Polar Bears International monitors and compares the data collected on polar bear movements in Western Hudson Bay (WHB) and Southern Hudson Bay (SHB). Depending on the season, the GPS sensors fitted allow researchers to study the behaviour of the animals when hunting seals and navigating across the ice floes. The data also enables them to analyse the movements of the polar bears. Accurate information about when and where the females are moving with their cubs is helping the initiative track how polar bears are responding to the shrinking sea ice. The conservation measures currently in place will be revised and improved based on these findings.
There are currently three female polar bears living in the Polar World at Hellabrunn. The zoo recently installed a "wobble tree" in their enclosure as an additional source of animal enrichment. The new construction in the tundra area offers extra physical and food enrichment for the female-only residents, who have already begun testing their new 'toy'.
This project was made possible thanks to the generous support of m-net, a subsidiary of our sponsor Stadtwerke München (SWM). Verena Dietl, chair of the supervisory board and Munich Mayor, is very pleased with m-net‘s commitment: "It is important that municipal companies are also engaged with sustainability issues. The donation for the new enrichment facility in Hellabrunn’s polar bear enclosure by m-net is a very good example, as it benefits the animals directly.”
More about our polar bears can be found on the zoo’s Mia san Tier podcast episode no. 20 at https://www.hellabrunn.de/podcast.
You can follow the movements of the polar bears fitted with radio collars on the Polar Bears International website: https://polarbearsinternational.org/polar-bears/tracking/. You can also make a donation to our cooperation project with Polar Bears International to the following account (include the reference “polar bear”):
Species conservation donation account
IBAN: DE 55 7015 0000 1001 9163 50