Studies of wildlife populations in the absence of parallel controlled, captive research greatly constrains our ability to understand animals in the wild. Improved communication and collaboration between zoos and field researchers will build significant capacity towards understanding and helping to conserve wild populations. Although there has been increasing interest in conducting research in zoos, most studies to date have been conducted by zoo staff on behavior and with relevance largely to the captive setting.1 Thus, we are often missing opportunities to develop studies of captive animals with relevance to their conservation in the wild. This paper will highlight a recent collaboration with field research biologists and staff of the Alaska and Oregon Zoos to conduct a series of polar bear studies needed to improve our understanding of how wild populations are responding to sea ice loss. Beyond the original expected outcomes of the collaboration, this joint project proved to provide a wide range of benefits to the zoo, the research organization, and importantly to our understanding of polar bears and their long-term conservation. This paper will outline the keys to successful collaboration as a template to encourage similar future joint work. It will also outline and discuss the reasons why this collaboration was extremely valuable and beneficial to the species of interest in captivity and in the wild, as well as to the organizations involved.
1. Anderson US, Maple TL, Bloomsmith MA. Factors facilitating research: a survey of zoo and aquarium professionals. Zoo Biology. 2010;29:1–13.