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Long-Term Effects of Drugging and Handling Free-Ranging Polar Bears

Malcolm A. Ramsay and Ian Stirling
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 50, No. 4 (Oct., 1986), pp. 619-626
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3800972
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3800972
Page Count: 8
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Long-Term Effects of Drugging and Handling Free-Ranging Polar Bears
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Abstract

We evaluated the long-term effects of chemically immobilizing and handling free-ranging polar bears (Ursus maritimus) on body weight, reproductive effort, cub survival, and movements on land. Between 1967 and 1984, 2,246 bears (≥1 year old) were handled on 2,899 occasions, and 445 cubs-of-the-year were handled at least once. Bears were stratified for analyses by sex, age, reproductive status, and season. Comparisons of mean body weight were made between bears never before captured and those handled on at least 1 previous occasion. Significant differences (P < 0.05) were found only for 2 age, reproductive, or seasonal strata. These exceptions were 2-year-old males that were heavier on recapture and adult females with cubs in February through May that were heavier on 1st capture. Mean weights of 2-3-month-old cubs and mean litter sizes of 1-, 2-, and 3-year-old young did not differ between 1st-capture and recaptured mothers. However, recaptured adult females showed a consistent trend toward smaller litters and lighter cubs. Furthermore, 10 of 13 pregnant females handled at dens in October or November abandoned them soon after being captured and moved a median distance of 24.5 km. Consequently, our data suggest that chasing, capturing, and handling free-ranging polar bears may result in some long-term effects. Nonetheless, for most of the parameters we were able to measure and for most strata of bears, the long-term effects associated with capture are small and seemingly negligible in a time frame measured in months or years.

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