New insights into dietary management of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (U. arctos).
ZooBiology 2022;41:166–175. DOI: 10.1002/zoo.21658
Although polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (U. arctos) have been exhibited in zoological gardens for centuries, little is known about their nutritional needs. Multiple recent studies on both wild and captive polar bears and brown bears have found that they voluntarily select dietary macronutrient proportions resulting in much lower dietary protein and higher fat or digestible carbohydrate concentrations than are currently fed in most zoos. These lower protein concentrations selected by both species maximized growth rates and efficiencies of energy utilization in brown bears and may play a role in reducing kidney, liver, and cardiovascular diseases in both species. Therefore, we propose the need for the development of new dietary regimens for both species in managed care that better reflect their macronutrient needs. We developed a new kibble that is higher in fat and lower in protein than typical diets that have been fed in managed care, has a fatty acid profile more consistent with wild bear diets, and has been readily consumed by both brown bears and polar bears. The kibble can be fed as the sole diet or as part of more complex diets with additional fruits, meats, or vegetables. Because many nutritional deficiencies and related diseases can take months or years to appear, we urge caution and continued long‐term monitoring of bears and their diets to ensure their optimal health.