Wild Things

Having spent a great deal of time outdoors as a kid growing up on the banks of the Speed River in Guelph, learning through experience about the plants and animals that went about their business through the cycling of the seasons, I got it in my head that what I really wanted to do was be a marine biologist. Around second year of studying biology at Queen’s University, I got a dream summer job working for Dr. Keith Ronald at the University of Guelph. For a couple of summers I was the keeper of a bunch of seals (Harp, Ringed, Harbour and even two Baikel Seals from Russia) that were subjects for some fascinating research projects. Working on a daily basis with Dr. Ronald’s graduate students and technicians, my job was to feed and medicate the animals, clean their tanks, catch them when necessary, take and analyse blood samples, and help the researchers in Zoo Annex III (mostly by staying out of the way). In my third year at U of G, however … kind of a long story … I got involved with setting up a research protocol, which had been used to determine the spectral sensitivity of seals, on a captive polar bear. This particular bear had been part of an energetics study in Churchill, Manitoba. Because participation in that research had habituated any natural fear of humans, these bears could not be reintroduced to the wild. So they were tranferred to the Toronto Zoo to live out their lives there. One of these bears just couldn’t get along with the other bears in the zoo and so rather than be euthanized immediately, Dr. Ronald opted to bring him to his research facility at U of G. And that’s where I met “Huxley” a full grown male polar bear. It was an incredible opportunity for a kid who was coming to the end of his undergraduate degree in biology and thinking about graduate work. Suffice it to say, a caged full grown polar bear is a complicated situation … for the bear and for its keeper.