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New, non-invasive sampling for polar bear studies

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For all their global appeal and familiarity, polar bears are actually few and far between, with 19 small populations spread out across a habitat the size of Europe. And they have been studied very little. The traditional method –using helicopters and tranquilizers- is invasive, expensive and difficult, so sampling occurs per group only once every 12 to 15 years.

Peter de Groot and his colleagues from the Department of Biology at Queens have therefore devised an alternative, non-invasive method that blends ancient and modern practices. “We hadn’t been capitalizing on our best assets,” de Groot remarks, “namely, the depth of understanding and physical skill of the Inuit of Gjoa Haven, and the power of modern genetics-based analysis.”

Sixty-six baited barbed-wire cordons, which capture hair as the animal passes through, were set up on a 650-kilometre grid across M’Clintock Channel.

“We put them where the hunters told us to, and we collect after two weeks, relying heavily on the Inuit ability to move over the pack ice. Samples of feces are gathered as well, which have turned out to be very important to our analyses.”

Genetic data and chemical analysis of both hair and feces allow estimates of parasite load, diet, and to some extent kinship.

“What we want to know,” says de Groot, “is how many and how healthy…we are making pretty good progress.”

The Nunavut General Monitoring Plan, on behalf of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Planning Commission, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated has provided targeted funding to support this project.

What is the Nunavut General Monitoring Plan?

The Nunavut General Monitoring Plan (NGMP) is an initiative that collects, analyzes, and reports information on the long-term conditions of Nunavut’s environment, people, communities, and economy.

It is overseen by a steering committee comprised of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, on behalf of the Government of Canada, the Nunavut Planning Commission, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., and the Government of Nunavut.

For more information:

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern
Development Canada
P.O. Box 2200
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: (867) 975-4654
Toll free: 1-855-897-6988

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