Elvis: a canine pregnancy test for polar bears

Posted By on Nov 18, 2013 | 0 comments


Remember the post about Ralf the Dogtor who is helping sick kids? Well here’s another dog that’s just as cute but is known as the canine pregnancy test for polar bears!

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Elvis is a two-year-old beagle who lives in Kansas City. He has been helping zoos around the US to figure out whether their polar bears are pregnant and he gets it right about 97% of the time. Elvis has never met a polar bear though! Instead zoo keepers send samples of the bears’ faeces to him which he then sniffs. When he identifies a positive sample, he is trained to sit and point his nose at the sample, and is then rewarded with his favourite treat.

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This way of testing for pregnancy is amazing considering polar bears only give birth about five times in their life, with each pregnancy only bringing one or two cubs. Consider too that females only release an egg during intercourse so there’s no guarantee that the egg will be fertilised. Add to this that female polar bears often become “pseudopregnant” which means the bear would show all the signs of a pregnancy after mating (weight gain, nesting behaviour, etc) but no cub would be born.

This is the first time a sniffer dog has been used which is really unique! Elvis and another dog (a border collie) were trained using over 200 samples from polar bears who had already given birth. The trainer started concentrating his training on Elvis after the other dog seemed to be guessing too often. The trainer remained skeptical until one day in mid-April when it became impossible to deny Elvis’ skills!

Today, Elvis is identifying pregnancies with a 97% accuracy rate! That’s better than many at-home pregnancy tests are at alerting humans. This month he’s busy testing 34 samples, two each from 17 polar bears at 14 zoos across the US and Canada.

How awesome is that?!

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