- Dr Nicholas Pilfold is a Postdoctoral Associate at San Diego Zoo Global
- His work is focused on the conservation of polar bears
- Most recently he was in the Arctic using drones to track animal behaviour
‘I never thought I would end up at a zoo but I love it!’ Dr Nicholas Pilfold told MailOnline Travel during a recent visit to San Diego Zoo.
The Vancouver native, 34, is in the running for having literally one of the coolest jobs in the world, with his work focused on protecting polar bears from human threat and climate change.
This year, his work has taken him to the deep Arctic and most recently to Churchill, in Canada, where the San Diego Zoo Global team worked at using a specially-designed drone to track bears’ movement.
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Fieldwork: Dr Nicholas Pilfold is based at San Diego Zoo Global with his work focused on the conservation of polar bears – pictured, with a sedated bear in the Arctic
While many scientists are wary about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) invading animals’ natural habitat, Dr Pilfold says they will keep a safe distance to monitor the bears’ behavior.
Test flights conducted in November went well and the team were able to use the drones to unobtrusively investigate remote areas inaccessible by foot.
So, how does one come to be a polar bear expert?
Dr Pilfold said he was fascinated by bears and ‘remote far-off places’ as a child, so he looked for a line of work that would marry the two.
He said after his first research trip to the Arctic he was hooked and he knew immediately that ‘this was the life for me’.
Dream job: Dr Pilfold said he was fascinated by bears and ‘remote far-off places’ as a child, so he looked for a line of work that would marry the two
Up in the air: Dr Pilfold looks down on a polar bear from a helicopter – his work takes him to some of the most remote spots in the world
Dr Pilfold completed a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver before completing a post-doctoral fellowship in biological sciences.
His work focused on the conservation of polar bears and he also studied the predator-prey relationships between polar bears and seals in the Beaufort Sea of Canada’s western Arctic.
In January of this year, Dr Pilfold landed the role of Postdoctoral Associate with San Diego Zoo Global.
Along with polar bears, the avid adventurer also studies Andean bears in Peru and giant pandas in China.
Safe place: San Diego Zoo Global – which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year – is currently home to three polar bears, which were rescued from the wild after being orphaned
Water baby: The zoo’s polar bear enclosure includes a plunge pool with glass windows which allow visitors to watch the giant bears in action
This means his work takes him to the bears’ homeplace and next February a trip to Sichuan in China – the home of giant pandas – is in the pipeline.
‘It’s a really varied role and that’s what I enjoy,’ Dr Pilfold said of his job.
San Diego Zoo – which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year – is currently home to three polar bears, which were rescued from the wild after being orphaned.
Kalluk and Tatqiq, a brother and sister pair, were only a few months old when they arrived at the complex in March of 2001 from Alaska.
Their mother had been wearing a radio collar for research purposes. When a sensor went off on her radio collar, the researchers went to check on her and her cubs. They found that she had been shot and killed, and her cubs were rescued.
Since they were so young, they would not have survived without their mother and were soon transferred to the zoo, where they have lived ever since.
Chinook, a female bear, also landed at San Diego Zoo in May 1996 as an orphan, but researchers don’t know what happened to her mother.
Since 2008, in the U.S., polar bears have been on the threatened species list
Dwindling numbers: It’s estimated that the polar bear population stands at around 22,000 to 31,000 worldwide
Visiting San Diego Zoo, it appears the polar bear facility is one of the most popular attractions.
The enclosure includes a plunge pool with glass windows which allow visitors to watch the giant bears in action.
After MailOnline Travel’s interview Dr Nicholas Pilfold has to head back to work.
‘I’ve got to plan the kit list for our Arctic expedition – it’s going to be -20 degrees Celsius, so we will need warm gear!’ he explains.
His job is literally on the Sub Zero side of coolness!
Since 2008, in the U.S., polar bears have been on the threatened species list and it’s estimated that the population stands at around 22,000 to 31,000 worldwide.
But hopefully, with Dr Pilfold and San Diego Zoo Global’s work along with other collaborators, numbers will gradually improve.
Their number one aim? ‘To end extinction,’ Dr Pilfold concludes.
San Diego Zoo is open every day of the year, including all holidays.
One day tickets for adults start at £40 ($50) and £32 ($40) for children.
To book tickets and to find out more about the zoo, visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org.
Air New Zealand – 2016 Eco-Airline of the Year – flies from London to Los Angeles with return prices starting from £519.
A single ride on Amtrak from Los Angeles to San Diego starts from £30.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online