Bear poop is getting a makeover at Manitoba’s Assiniboine Park Zoo.
For the past two years, staff have been adding glitter to the food fed to its resident polar bears. Which means when that food, er, comes back out, it’s all shiny and sparkly. But why would the zoo do this, you ask?
“We needed a way to tell whose poop is whose,” Stephen Petersen, the Head of Conservation and Research said.
The reason identifying animal turds is so important, according to Petersen, is because experts can determine much about a bear’s health through what they find in its excrement. For example, they often look for high levels of cortisol, as that can serve as an indicator of stress. Since not all of the animals who live at the zoo had much exposure to people before arriving, being suddenly housed in a fishbowl with an audience can sometimes be a lot for them to handle. Hence the need to detect any traces of discomfort.
“We want to make sure they’re not stressed as these animals adjust to life in the zoo,” Petersen said.
Here’s an example of what the food looks like:
If staff find that a bear is having a hard time adapting to its new digs, they will sometimes limit their exposure to people or enter the animals into “zen sessions.” During these sessions, bears that are anxious around people but comfortable with zookeepers are taken through a series of activities to reinforce calm behaviour. This can include getting the bear to lie down and relax in a quiet space, and giving it lots of food rewards.
“It’s kind of the same thing you’d do for a human,” Petersen said.
The glitter used for the research is the same kind of non-toxic, craft glue you’d find at a kid’s store. Of course, it is safe, and zoo staff made sure to research which ones were the best for consumption.
As for the bears? They don’t seem to mind a little glitter in their grub at all.
“They don’t even notice,” Petersen said.