Elvis the beagle called in to sniff out pregnancy in zoo's polar bear
If Kobe the polar bear is pregnant, Elvis the beagle could sniff out the secret and let Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium officials know.
Elvis, a 2-year-old pup from suburban Kansas City, performs an unusual but stunningly accurate pregnancy test: He sniffs out pheromones in female polar bears' feces that let him know whether they are with cub.
Elvis is right about 97 percent of the time, making him about as accurate as an over-the-counter pregnancy test.
“We're keeping our fingers crossed,” said Dwayne Biggs, curator of aquatic life at the Highland Park zoo, as Kobe played with a toy, rubbed against rocks and bellowed in the exhibit behind him on Friday.
Kobe, who mated with a polar bear named Koda several times during the spring and summer, has shown signs of pregnancy. She doesn't want anything to do with Koda, her appetite and weight have soared, and she's “denning,” or hunkering down in an area away from other bears.
Biggs said such signs often wind up being “false positives,” and traditional pregnancy detection methods such as progesterone monitoring and ultrasound exams are not as effective with polar bears as other animals.
That's where Elvis comes in.
The pup has been honing his skills in poop-based pregnancy sleuthing since January, training on more than 200 fecal samples. When Elvis smells the right pheromones, he sits down, looks up at his handler and barks, Biggs said.
“It's rewarding for him. He really seems to be having a grand time sniffing those things,” he said.
The training is being done in conjunction with Cincinnati Zoo's Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife. Polar bears are threatened, with declining numbers in the wild and just 45 in captivity across the United States, Biggs said.
Late last month, Elvis received two samples each from 17 female polar bears that mated in captivity this year, including a sample from Kobe.
Testing is expected to continue for another couple of weeks.
If Kobe, 11, is pregnant, Biggs expects her to deliver in the next month or so. The average newborn polar bear weighs about a pound and is a foot long. The public likely would not get a glimpse of the cub until spring.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Offense awakens to lead Steelers past Panthers
- Former manager of Consol’s land office charged with 60 counts of mail fraud
- 53 Allegheny County bridges slated for rehab
- Steelers notebook: Rooney says owners support Goodell
- Peduto’s first budget proposal seeks to increase property tax rate
- Legally blind Pirates fan hangs on every play, has kept score for decades
- Rossi: State of NFL gives Steelers a chance
- Game changers: Turnover leads to elusive TD for Steelers
- Penguins forward Megna’s skill set might be perfect fit
- Mother sues Butler County Jail, Butler Memorial Hospital after son dies in custody
- Indiana County mother gets jail term for toddler’s drowning