It takes a lot of patience (and a lot of fish).
Let's start with a video of a polar bear walking on a rotating treadmill. This is a slow-motion video (120fps) where you can clearly see the posture of the polar bear.
A variety of animals that walked on the treadmill in the study have been introduced before. Through the treadmill, researchers can easily record the posture of animals at different speeds, as well as metabolism during exercise, and so on. However, a question that does not usually unfold in detail in research papers is: how do people get their subjects on the treadmill and run obediently on the treadmill? How long does it take to get a polar bear to walk smoothly on a treadmill?
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the answer is 5 months. It takes longer than I thought, and it seems to be a very patient process.
recently read an article in the Atlantic about some tidbits behind the research on the polar bear treadmill. The female polar bear selected for the study was Tatqiq, then 16, from the San Diego Zoo (San Diego Zoo).
the first problem encountered by the research team is not the training of polar bears, but how to find a treadmill big enough and strong enough to carry these animals. Eventually, they bought a treadmill designed for racehorses, which was 10 feet long and weighed two tons. The treadmill is placed in a cubicle made of transparent polycarbonate and a steel skeleton, which not only prevents the sudden outburst of the polar bear, but also makes it easy to monitor the gas composition in the cubicle so that you can understand the metabolism of the polar bear during exercise.
at the beginning of training, the treadmill was off. Tatqiq the polar bear just walks into the cubicle every time, lies or stands on the treadmill, stays for a few minutes, and then gets some food reward. A few weeks later, when the staff turned the treadmill on to the lowest gear, Tatqiq wanted to turn around and leave, but was eventually attracted back by more food. After that, the staff will speed up again and feed him a little meat or fish every 20 seconds. Seduced by a large number of raw meat and fresh fish, Tatqiq spent five months gradually adapting to the treadmill and was finally qualified for the research task.
(if someone stood in front of the treadmill handing over food, I might prefer to run, too. )
the preparation of the study seems to be a lot of fun, but there is actually a heavy background behind this study. A polar bear is an animal that touches the ground on the soles of its feet, so it walks steadily, but it is less efficient and consumes more energy at high speed than landing on its toes (such as cats). Polar bears do not often run during hunting, and they are more likely to wait in ice caves, but with climate change and less ice, polar bears may have to run and hunt, which is not good news for them.
Polar bears in the wild are also forced to stay in the water longer during climate change, so the researchers say their next step is to study how swimming affects the energy consumption of polar bears. So maybe in the future we will see polar bears swimming in the swimming machine.
Source of this article: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/polar-bear-treadmill/564638/
the original research text (and video source) mentioned here: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/221/12/jeb175372