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Russian sperm bank for bears: Surrogate grizzly to carry polar cubs

Published time: November 21, 2013 14:31
RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

A grizzly bear may become a surrogate mother to polar bear cubs on the endangered species list, thanks to scientists from the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, who have developed a unique program to conserve the country’s polar population.

Despite the fact that polar bears are listed as endangered, they continue to be exterminated by poachers, which is why the polar bear population has been declining dramatically year by year. It is classified as a vulnerable species, with seven of the 19 polar bear subpopulations declining, according to a 2011 study.

Polar bears evolved between 1 million and 3 million years ago from grizzly, or brown, bears. According to WWF, there are currently 25,000 polar bears worldwide, with 60 percent to 80 percent of the animals living in Canada. If current global warming trends continue unabated, polar bears will be vulnerable to extinction within the next century, scientists warn.

Polar bears, the largest carnivorous land mammals on Earth, hardly ever multiply in captivity. With the help of a dedicated bear sperm bank, Russian zoologists are determined to resort to surrogate motherhood to give Mother Nature a helping hand.

RIA Novosti / Sergey Krasnouhov

"A group of researchers involved in the experiment is currently busy with hard preparatory work,” Nikita Melnikov, a member of the research group in Ekaterinburg, an industrial city in the Urals, told Uralinform.ru. “A sperm bank with white bears eggs is now being created. Animals that will take part in the embryo transplantation are being determined. We're negotiating with different Russian zoos," he said.

Scientists have already carried out preliminary experiments, which have shown that the grizzly bear can become a surrogate mother. Artificial insemination was performed on the grizzly surrogate, after which she successfully gave birth to a healthy cub.  

Scientists have decided that the genetic material for the rare experiment will be taken from the inhabitants of a local zoo in Yekaterinburg in – 15-year-old white female bear, Aina, and a 16-year-old male polar bear, Umka. To get the required genetic material, they will be given sleeping pills. With a little scientific magic, they could soon become the first parents. The role of surrogate could be given to a grizzly named Vetka, who has already borne healthy cubs.

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