Apparently Elvis has not left the building. Sam here. You all know I have a big nose and can sniff out the tiniest piece of cheese but a Beagle named Elvis puts my giant schnoz to shame. Seems that Elvis is playing a role in helping save the polar bear population!
As possibly the most adorable pregnancy tester ever, Elvis sniffs out potential pregnant polar bears to determine whether they are pregnant or not by…get this…sniffing polar bear fecal samples. And he has a 97% accuracy rate to make his ‘canine consulting’ work a big hit with numerous zoos around the country!
Polar bears only give birth perhaps as few as 5 times during their lives, usually only having one or two cubs at time, a rate that is lower than most mammals. Cubs generally are only born every 2-3 years, depending on food supplies. This endangered species needs as much help as possible particularly as their natural habitat continues to shrink. Some scientists predict they could be extinct in 30-40 years. Zoo breeding programs may be the breed’s last hope to exist and are trying to determine whether their females are pregnant so they can be totally prepared at birth. Polar bear cubs typically only weigh about a pound at birth. Polar bears can show all the traditional signs of pregnancy after mating (i.e. weight gain, nesting behavior), but months later…zilch. Polar bears are not alone in displaying pseudo-pregnancies, other mammals do it as well including humans. Hormones present in pseudo-pregnant and pregnant bears may be similar enough to indicate a false positive.
Many zoos across North America have resorted to waiting, setting up cameras and monitoring the dens 24/7 to see if their polar bears will give birth. Officials at the Cincinnati Zoo thought there could to be an easier way than anxious waiting and contacted Matt Skogen, a dog training specialist from Ironheart High Performance Working Dogs to see if dogs with their keen sense of smell, could be trained to detect pregnancies. It was worth a shot.
Enter Elvis who has actually never met a polar bear, he just sniffs their poop. Sniffing polar bear protein samples from fecal samples, Elvis is able to distinguish between pregnant, pseudo-pregnant and non-pregnant bears, a definite boon for zoos and nature centers around the country. Female polar bears often display signs of pregnancy without giving birth, and having an ace in the hole like Elvis can potentially help with increasing numbers of this endangered species.
When he’s not working like a dog at the training center (he can perform as many as 200 test repetitions a day), he lives with the Skogen family and is said to be happy go-lucky pup who’s very food motivated. (#willworkforfood) Way to go, Elvis!
Does your fur-kid have super sniffing capabilities? What do they typically discover?
Live, love, bark! <3