Seneca Park Zoo recently partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife to participate in the development of assisted reproductive technologies by artificially inseminating Anoki, a 22-year-old female polar bear.
“With the dramatic decline of the polar bear population worldwide and only 11 breeding pairs of polar bears still in human care at American zoos, conservation is of critical concern to the future of the species,” County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said. “Having Anoki participate in this project will advance the knowledge of polar bear reproduction, which could help ensure that this incredible species remains in zoos like ours in the future. Regardless of the outcome, Monroe County is proud to partner with the experts at CREW to support polar bear conservation.”
Seneca Park Zoo has a history of working with CREW on polar bear reproduction. Aurora, the zoo’s previous polar bear and Anoki’s mother through natural conception, was the first polar bear ever to undergo an artificial insemination procedure in 2012. That attempt and others since have not resulted in cubs.
This is the third AI attempt with Anoki; the first two procedures were conducted when she lived at the Maryland Zoo. CREW has attempted AI on seven bears since 2012.
“Because Anoki has been treated in the past, we already have a reference for how she may respond to a particular hormone treatment,” said Erin Curry, reproductive physiologist at CREW and leader of its polar bear project. “Based on information we’ve learned from her and from other carnivore species, this year we modified the hormone regime in an attempt to improve the chances of success. We remain hopeful that Anoki may be the first polar bear to produce cubs as a result of an AI procedure.”
The AI procedure involves the use of hormone therapy to prepare the female polar bear for the procedure. Seneca Park Zoo animal care staff worked with Anoki to train her to voluntarily accept hand injections of the hormones.
The procedure, conducted in partnership with zoo veterinarian Louis DiVincenti and animal care staff, was performed using sperm from a genetically valuable male. DiVincenti performed a complete physical exam and diagnostic testing while Anoki was under anesthesia, and she appears to be in good health.
Polar bear reproduction is a complicated process that includes “delayed implantation,” which means that while polar bears breed in the spring the embryo doesn’t implant for four to eight months. If the embryo does successfully implant, cubs are typically born in November or December. There is no pregnancy test for polar bears, so it won’t be determined if the AI was successful for many months, if and when cubs are born.