Tag Archives: bears

Researchers look at hibertnating bears for the first time

Bears are some of the most amazing and loved animals out there, and to find out that up until a few months ago nobody made a thorough study about their hibernating was really sad for me. Until this, almost everything we knew about hibernating was that… well, bears do it’; they go into their dens and come out a few months after that looking a whole lot skinnier, and of course, hungrier.

But researchers from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Stanford University weren’t satisfied with just that, so they set on a quest to find out the details of this long winter sleep that bears do; in order to understand it, they studied five bears that had been caught by local authorities wandering too close to civiliziation. It was really important and hard to find such specimens, because when in captivity, their natural cycles get all mixed up, so studying them shows little scientific information, and as for wild ones… you never should wake a sleeping bear – even if you work at Stanford.

These five bears were kept in specially designed dens that had infrared cameras, and they “showed” researchers that during hibernation, the bears’ metabolic level drops to 25%, even though their body temperature goes down way less. During the theoretical 5 months of hibernating, they do not eat, drink or defecate – all they need is air. What good could this do for humans ?

‘If you could reduce the metabolic demand of people, it’ll be favourable either during surgery or as a quick response during heart attack or stroke or trauma,’ Barnes said. ‘What that would do is give you more time. We like to say it would potentially expand the ‘golden hour’ – during which, if you reach advanced medical care, outcomes are better – to a golden day or a golden week.’

It does show great promise indeed, but researchers have yet to figure out how do bears lower their metabolism to such drastic rates. Another more interesting, but even more speculative use for this research would be long distance space travel, because with our current means and what we have in sight, even traveling to Mars will take a really long time.

Koalas in peril of extinction, due to habitat loss and an AIDS-like virus

The koala population has been going down for quite some while now, mostly due to habitat loss and the lack of laws to protect them, but now it seems they have a really, REALLY big problem. It’s recently been reported that koalas from the Queensland area (and not only) are dying from the spread of an AIDS-like virus, and if things keep going this way, they could be extinct in less than 15 years.

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”We’re seeing a 100 per cent infection rate in the populations we’re studying. On those figures, it should be considered a disease epidemic,” Australian Wildlife Hospital research director Jon Hanger said.

The big problem is that this retrovirus combines with the habitat loss and there already have been reported some local koala extinctions.

“‘We are losing the battle, and koala populations in smaller fragmented habitats are doomed to extinction. ‘We have hammered our biodiversity like you wouldn’t believe. If you look at a map of Australia on Google Earth you’ll see how few fragments of native vegetation are left across the continent. We have gone way beyond the tipping point for many of our ecosystems.”

Having looked at Google Earth I can say that this statement is not an exaggeration by any standards. He also pointed a finger at the “antiquated legislation” which is currently unable to provide any kind of protection to the little furry fellows.

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”They were written at a time when the main aim was to make it illegal to kill or collect koalas. They need to be urgently revised to factor in threats posed by climate change, the rapid spread of disease and urban development.”

It’s obvious that the needs and expectancies from the legislators have greatly increased, and hopefully they will see this and make the necessary steps. The Australian Wildlife Hospital and University of Queensland have published a progress report on the moving of young koala populations. The greatest distance traveled was 14km and the reproductive success was really high, but the relocated koalas have numerous problems to cope with. Feral dogs, competition for mates, clearing forests and droughts are just a part of what they will have to face.

As it turns out, the risk of extinction has been greatly misscalculated, underestimated by ~ 100 times ! This also raises more questions as 1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 3 amphibians and 1 in 10 birds are threatened with extinction; what happened if the mathematical model has been wrong here too??