Every year on February 27, Assiniboine Park Zoo and polar bear lovers around the world celebrate International Polar Bear Day. This special day was founded by Polar Bears International to coincide with the time period when polar bear moms and cubs are snug in their dens.
February is an important and vulnerable time for polar bears in the wild. To celebrate International Polar Bear Day, learn more about these magnificent animals and how you can help protect them in the wild by lowering your CO2 footprint.
Snuggle up in the Den
Pregnant polar bears build maternity dens in the fall, which will act as a home for moms and their cubs throughout the winter. Cubs are typically thought to be born in November or December inside the den and the whole family will remain there until March or April. During this time in the den, the mother polar bear does not eat or drink, and that fast can last anywhere from four to eight months!
The survival of cubs is critical for the species as a whole, making denning season a particularly vulnerable time for polar bears. Mother polar bears need to enter their dens in a healthy state with lots of fat stores in order to sustain themselves and feed their cubs through the denning season.
Polar Bear Super Moms!
Polar bears are super moms of the animal kingdom. At birth, cubs are only about 30 cm (12”) long and weigh only about 500 g (1 lbs). They are blind and toothless at birth and rely completely on their mom for food and warmth. Remember, while the cubs are relying on mom in the den, she is fasting and won’t have any food or water for up to eight months!
When mama bear and her cubs emerge from their den, it’s straight to work again!
These super moms provide for their cubs for up approximately 2.5 years and teach them to hunt and how to survive as a bear in the Arctic!
How Assiniboine Park Zoo Researchers are Helping to Protect Denning Habitat
The Conservation and Research team here at Assiniboine Park Zoo has created an accessible, comprehensive map of known polar bear denning areas in Canada. This is helping land managers and northern communities identify critical polar bear habitat to make informed decisions about that land. This information will help with the management of polar bears in the changing Arctic, and will hopefully result in leaving important denning areas protected for the future.
There is much that researchers have yet to learn about polar bear denning, but this project has been a major step to providing denning information in an accessible way. Click here to read more about this study.
A donation to our Wildlife Conservation fund supports initiatives like this that take action to protect and conserve wild species and places.
Sea Ice and Denning Bears
Polar bears rely on Arctic sea ice for many aspects of their lives as it is the habitat they need to hunt seals. Due to climate change, sea ice is changing dramatically. In Hudson Bay, the ice has been breaking up earlier in the spring and freezing later in the fall. This means that the bears have less and less time in the year to hunt and fill their bellies and a longer wait when the ice is gone each summer. This affects all polar bears, however, the impacts on moms and cubs are even more dramatic as moms need to feed their growing family!
On a happy note, we have seen a normal freeze up and thaw over the past two years, which we think will be great for polar bear survival.
How YOU can help polar bears in the wild
Sea ice loss due to climate change is the biggest threat facing polar bears. When we burn fossil fuels, we add more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This buildup acts like a heat-trapping blanket around the world, which results in disruptions to the climate.
You can join us and millions of others to help polar bears in the wild by reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Small changes can make a big difference!
- Adjust your thermostat by at least two degrees (up in summer and down in winter), and maybe even more at night and when no one is home.
- Choose green transportation options like public transit, biking, and walking whenever possible.
- Unplug your electronic devices when not in use. Phantom power is drawn from many devices, especially those that have LED lights or digital displays.
- Take the No Idling Challenge, even in cold weather. Idling wastes fuel and money as well as emits greenhouse gases.
- Reduce your waste. Choose products without excess packaging, bring your own reusable bags, and buy and cook only what you’ll eat.
- Support local producers. The further your food has to travel to your plate, the more greenhouse gases are produced
- Become a polar bear ambassador by talking about climate change, getting involved in your community, and voting with the environment in mind! Your actions and words have an impact on those around you.
Visit Polar Bears International for more information about protecting polar bears and Arctic sea ice.
The Conservation and Research team at Assiniboine Park Zoo is passionate about polar bears! Click here to learn more about our ongoing projects to help polar bears and other species in the wild.