Sparkly polar bear poo shines a light on research at Winnipeg zoo
Polar bears at Journey to Churchill fed glitter to track their, ahem, movements
All that glitters is gold, and at the Assiniboine Park Zoo's Journey to Churchill exhibit what glitters, is poop.
For the past two years polar bears living at the zoo have had a special ingredient added to their diet - glitter.
"In the beginning it was easier because we didn't have as many bears so we didn't need as many colours," said Stephen Petersen, head of conservation and research at the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.
Colours range from purple to red and gold. Eight out of the nine bears at the exhibit are fed the glitter, which is just regular non-toxic, craft glitter. The zoo keepers did some research beforehand to see what types of glitter were most visible and the safest to consume.
Zoo keepers collect samples from each bear to track what's going on in their bodies. The droppings are collected from the time they are first brought to the zoo until they reach sexual maturity.
The samples gathered are used to track levels of stress hormones in the bears as they adjust to life at the zoo.
The gathering of fecal droppings is a much less invasive way of testing for those hormones than drawing blood samples.
The levels are then compared to other data on their behavior and what they've been exposed to.
"We want to know, are we doing it right? Are there ways we can improve?" said Petersen.
"To really have a science based way of saying, well this really worked for the bears or, this really didn't,"
This type of research is quite common for animals in captivity but most visitors don't get close enough to realize some animals' poo, like that of unicorns, contains sparkles.
"The parents are the ones that seem a little more fascinated with it,"said Petersen.
While the bears themselves are what draws the crowds, Petersen says the research is often less noticeable.
"We're actually doing quite a bit of research behind the scenes...to learn more so that we can keep wild animals in the wild, where they are really most at home."