The Bear Necessities

Emma PearcePOLAR BEAR KEEPER/CARE ATTENDANT
Sea World

QUALIFICATIONS
BSc (Zoology)/BA (Geography, Japanese) 2004

Did you know? A polar bear cub only weighs about 500g when it is born, but will grow up to weigh over 500kg as an adult – more than 1000 times its birth size.

THERE are just three polar bears in Australia – and UQ Science graduate Emma Pearce is one of the lucky few who gets to look after them.

Emma, who graduated in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science (zoology) and Bachelor of Arts (geography and Japanese), is a polar bear keeper and animal care attendant at Sea World on the Gold Coast.

Earning the coveted position after doing volunteer work at Sea World during her university studies, Emma now spends her days looking after the theme park’s three resident and playful polar bears – five-year-old male twins Hudson and Nelson, originally from Canada, and their female friend Liya, 8, from Russia.

She also cares for seals, penguins, dugongs and pelicans in her role.

Emma’s average shift involves cleaning her animals’ enclosures, feeding them, and, in the case of the polar bears – training them.

Some of the actions she has taught the trio include opening their mouths, so their teeth can be checked, and presenting their paws, so any injuries can be observed – both of which come in handy when the vet does his rounds.

“It makes it much easier for our vet,” she explains.

Emma says because the polar bears are highly intelligent, they get bored “really easily”.

Hence, she and the other carers also brainstorm ways to make every day a little bit novel for the bears – from changing the way their food is prepared to alternating their toys.

“We try to make every day different,” she says.

Emma says her desire to work with sea animals flowed on from a Bachelor of Science field trip to UQ’s Heron Island Research Station.
“The week-long trip to Heron Island inspired me to want to work with marine life,” she says.

She describes science qualifications as a “huge advantage” when applying for jobs in the animal care industry, especially because of the “hands-on experience” offered when studying at UQ.

In Emma’s case, the results speak for themselves.

“I’m outside most of the day, interacting with the animals… I love my job,” she says.