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WSU bears off to a walking start

Posted by | May 10, 2017

The WSU Bear Center has some new equipment, which you may have noticed during your volunteer shifts. It’s a treadmill that will be used to measure the energy cost for various activities, including lying, sitting, standing and walking.

The treadmill at the WSU Bear Center

The treadmill is actually returning home, after spending the winter at the San Diego Zoo. It is part of a research study that involves figuring out how efficient grizzlies are compared to polar bears as the two species increasingly become competitors in the warming Arctic. This winter, a polar bear at the San Diego Zoo spent time lying and walking on it while researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz measured the costs.

Currently, our bears are being trained, through judicious use of hot dogs, dog biscuits, apples and cookies, to use the treadmill so they feel safe and comfortable during the research. Once they’re used to the equipment, WSU scientists will start measuring them for their part of an ongoing research study that includes multiple federal agencies.

It will be a few weeks before our bears are ready for full usage of the machine, but it didn’t take them long to re-familiarize themselves to it. We hope to take a full range of measurements in mid-June.

Installing the treadmill back into its place took about a dozen people almost two hours and involved a moving truck, two forklifts, and several crowbars and high-strength dollies.

The treadmill will be at the Bear Center through the summer and into the fall. It may leave again for more work with polar bears, but no plans have been finalized yet.