Como Zoo Keeper Travels to See Wild Polar Bears

Julie Yarrington, a keeper from Como Zoo in Saint Paul, will travel to the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, in late September for a week-long Zoo Keeper Leadership Camp sponsored by Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation group and the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK). Como Zoo selected Yarrington based on her past outreach and community involvement. She will join 15 other keepers from the U.S. and Canada.

“The zoo keepers who take part in our Leadership Camp are extraordinary individuals,” said Robert Buchanan, PBI president. “They spend a week on the tundra during the fall polar bear migration on the shores of Hudson Bay. They stay at the Tundra Buggy® Lodge—with polar bears just outside— to learn about polar bears, climate change, and how each of us can help. From this remote location, they stay connected to the rest of the world through their blog at polarbearsinternational.org. Before returning home, each Ambassador creates an individual action plan to help reduce CO2 in their community.”

Churchill’s polar bears, part of the Western Hudson Bay population, draw visitors from around the world during their fall migration. Every summer, these bears are driven ashore when the ice on the bay melts, taking away their seal-hunting grounds. They spend the next few months resting and fasting. As cold weather returns, they begin to gather on the shore near Churchill to wait for the ice to form.

Having the chance to see polar bears in their natural habitat –and to learn first-hand about arctic climate-warming—is a transformative experience for camp participants. The goal of the camp, now in its second year, is to inspire, inform, and empower zoo professionals to advocate for environmental stewardship in their home communities.

Yarrington, who works with the polar bears and the aquatic animals at Como Zoo, says she’s excited for the trip. “This is such an amazing opportunity” commented Yarrington. “With the recent opening of Como’s new Polar Bear Odyssey, now is such a great time to learn from top experts about polar bears and learn even more about the current status of polar bears and what they are facing in the wild. But above all, I hope to bring back ideas on ways to inspire and educate people in Minnesota.”

Como Zoo was invited to send a representative to the camp because of its role as a PBI Arctic Ambassador Center Zoo. These centers focus on animal well-being and enrichment, take a leadership role in stewardship and carbon reduction efforts in their communities, and participate in PBI polar bear research efforts. Many also help support polar bear conservation through the PBI Polar Bear Sustainability Alliance.

“Outreach by institutions such as Como Zoo can make an enormous difference in motivating the public,” Buchanan said. “If we are serious about conserving polar bears and their ecosystem we need to act quickly—and our Arctic Ambassador Center Zoos and Zoo Keeper Leadership Camps play an important role in inspiring change.”

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