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Polar Bear Picnic

The Wilder, the Better

Doctor Fish

Tuna in the Tank

Zoos as Arks

Return to the Wild

Viewer Challenge
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TEACHING GUIDES


The New Zoos: Polar Bear Picnic


Polar bears at the San Diego Zoo spend their days frolicking in the water, following scent trails, playing with toys and generally having a great time -- all in the name of enrichment. Unlike the zoos of yesteryear, where animals spent a lot of time pacing in their cages, today's zookeepers try to make zoo life more like life in the wild. Keeping animals healthy and happy is the priority of zoos today, as they focus on long-term survival.

Curriculum Links
Related Frontiers Shows and Activities
More About the Polar Bear Plunge
Activity 1: Design Your Lair
Activity 2: Polar Bear Adaptions



CURRICULUM LINKS

ANATOMY/
PHYSIOLOGY



BIOLOGY


adaptions
EARTH
SCIENCE


polar ecosystem
LIFE
SCIENCE


mammals
PHYSICAL
SCIENCE


thermal properties




RELATED FRONTIERS SHOWS AND ACTIVITIES



MORE ABOUT THE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE

The San Diego Zoo, founded in 1916 with 50 animals collected from menageries and kept in cage-like enclosures, has pioneered many innovations. The zoo's Polar Bear Plunge exhibit is a prime example of the revolutionary thinking in wildlife management. Designed to simulate an arctic summer, the Polar Bear Plunge holds 130,000 gallons of water cooled to 55 degrees F. It's stocked with fish and kept clean and cool. The bears also have grassy areas for napping, a sandbox for digging and a special salt-water pool. This habitat provides not only a space, but also an enriched environment tuned to the bear's physical and behavioral adaptations. This type of "natural" enclosure reduces anxiety for the bears and increases the value of the zoo experience for the public.



ACTIVITY 1: DESIGN YOUR LAIR

Everyone needs their space -- the stuff in that space makes them feel comfortable and at home. Think about what it would be like to have to live in one room for the rest of your life. You can't leave it and all of the resources needed to keep you alive must be brought in. What kind of "space" and "stuff" would you need in the room, your habitat, to allow you to live in comfort?

OBJECTIVE

Investigate the difference between what is essential to survive and what is desirable in an enriched environment.

MATERIALS
  • paper
  • ruler
  • colored pencils or markers
  • other art supplies, as needed
PROCEDURE
  1. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. Write "essential" above the left column and "desirable" above the right column.

  2. Under the "essential" column, list all of the things you need to stay alive. This list would include the absolute minimum items like food and water. In the "desirable" column, list all the items you would like to have to make your stay comfortable and to keep you from getting bored.

  3. Compare your lists with those made by other students and discuss.

  4. Draw a blueprint of your ideal habitat. Make sure your drawing incorporates as many items on your lists as possible. Label the key components and the dimensions of your room. You may prefer to design your habitat on a computer.

  5. Display your ideal lair for others to view.
QUESTIONS
  1. Did your "essential" list differ from any of your classmates' lists? How do you think your essential list would differ from one made by your parents?

  2. What would be the difference in your quality of life between living in a room based on your essential needs versus your desirable needs?

  3. How does this difference parallel the old and new zoos?

  4. Compare early zoos, which housed animals in cages, with modern zoos. Which do you think are cheaper in the short run? Over a longer term? Which provide a better view of the animals for visitors? Which are better for the health and happiness of the animals?

  5. Imagine your design is part of an intergalactic zoo where you are part of an exhibit. Would you vary your design knowing you would be "on exhibit"?


ACTIVITY 2: POLAR BEAR ADAPTATIONS

When designing habitats for new zoos, it's important to pay attention to the physical adaptations that make an animal successful in its natural environment. The polar bear has several adaptations that make it an incredible hunter able to withstand the intense cold in the polar regions. These adaptations include a thick layer of fur, about 11 cm of blubber, paws that help it paddle, and keen senses of smell and vision. These bears are exceptionally strong swimmers.

Another of the polar bear's adaptations for living in extreme cold is the black mottled skin underneath its fur. Scientists think the fur - which is actually transparent, although it looks white - acts like optical fibers that concentrate solar energy down to the black skin to help warm the bear.

OBJECTIVE

Investigate how polar bears keep warm in their natural habitat.

MATERIALS
  • black and white sheets of construction paper
  • 3 thermometers
  • 2 non-fluorescent lamps
PROCEDURE
  1. Place a sheet of black paper and a sheet of white paper under a light source. Put a thermometer on each paper so that the light will shine directly and evenly onto each. The light source should be 12 to 20 cm away from the paper. Do not turn on the light yet.

  2. Record the temperature for each thermometer (in celsius) in the appropriate column of the data table below. Use the third thermometer to record the ambient room temperature.

  3. Turn on the light. Collect temperature data every 30 seconds for five minutes. Record the data in your table.

  4. Once you have collected the data, graph your data with time on the horizontal axis and temperature on the vertical axis. Be sure to label your graph and include a key for the different conditions you were testing.
TEMPERATURE DATA TABLE
TIME AIR BLACK
PAPER
WHITE
PAPER
START      
:30      
1:00      
1:30      
2:00      
2:30      
3:00      
3:30      
4:00      
4:30      
5:00      


QUESTIONS
  1. Did the temperature for the black paper rise faster than the white? Why or why not?

  2. Why did you record the temperature in the room?

  3. How does the bear's black skin help keep it warm?

  4. Adaptations to keep warm are important in the bear's natural habitat, but may be detrimental to its health in warmer environments like San Diego. What accommodations in the zoo habitat have designers made to keep the bears from overheating? Visit the polar bears at The San Diego Zoo's Polar Bear Plunge.





 

Scientific American Frontiers
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