Last week, on International Polar Bear Day, WFPL and the Louisville Zoo hosted a discussion about polar bears and climate change in WFPL’s studio. The panelists were:
- Dr. Andrew Derocher, a biology professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Canada and a polar bear scientist.
- John Walczak, the director of the Louisville Zoo.
- Dr. Keith Mountain, the chair of the University of Louisville’s Department of Geography and Geosciences.
- Jim Maddy, the president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which governs and accredits zoos and aquariums around the world.
- Maria Koetter, Louisville Metro Government’s first-ever director of sustainability.
The panel lasted a little more than an hour, and was a lively conversation about the issue and the role zoos play in protecting polar bears and raising awareness about climate change. You can listen to the whole discussion below, or keep reading for some highlights.
Keith Mountain on how people have affected the climate:
“I think that we can say with great certainty that there is a human impact on our climate, both as a change in the climate system itself, and humankind is also a major agent of geomorphic change. We change the surface of our earth, we manage water resources, we irrigate areas. And so climate change is becoming important.”
Andrew Derocher says polar bears on the decline because sea ice–their native habitat–is melting.
“This species evolved to exploit a habitat, that habitat is sea ice, that habitat is disappearing. And the consequences for the bears are that they’re not getting enough time to hunt and feed and basically they’re declining in body condition…the bears just aren’t as fat as they used to be. That usually means the survival rates are lower, and reproductive rates are lower as well.”
He estimates two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population will be gone by mid-century.
Jim Maddy on how zoos address climate change:
“The science [on climate change] is clear, and zoos and aquariums are science-based institutions. So we’re staffed by scientists, our policies in animal care and animal welfare are driven by scientific studies. And a lot of the animals that we’ve been talking about…most of what we know about the physiology of these animals…is information that’s been gleaned in zoological settings.”
John Walczak discusses the Louisville Zoo’s strategy for educating the public about climate change:
“If people are going to care about saving something, they’re going to save things that they love. And for them to love it, they must understand it. And for them to understand it, they must be taught. And for zoos, that’s really the heart of how we convey our messaging.”
Maria Koetter on how Louisville Metro Government is addressing climate change:
“So, we’re going to do some workgroups around identifying some adaptation and resilience strategies so that the city can be prepared for those weather pattens and different things that we face as a result of climate change, [like] the extreme flooding we’ve seen around town inside our urban core.”
And finally, the answer to a very important question: yes, there ARE grizzly-polar bear hybrids. But Andrew Derocher says the hybrids probably aren’t going to be the rescue for polar bears.
“Some long dark nights in the Arctic, some things happen,” he said. “We have quite a number of hybrids showing up, particularly in a place called Victoria Island in the Western Canadian Arctic archipelago.”
So…are they called pizzlies or grolar bears?