05/22/2016 03:10 EDT | Updated 05/22/2016 03:59 EDT

Assiniboine Park Zoo Polar Bears Poop Glitter, For Science

For the past two years, polar bears at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo have literally been shitting glitter.

Zookeepers are using different colours of glitter to track the bears' poop. Each bear is assigned a specific colour, which is added to the ground horse meat they eat, according to CBC News.

The bears' poop is tracked from when they arrive at the zoo until they reach sexual maturity.

Eight of the nine bears at the zoo are fed non-toxic craft glitter, which leads to sparkly feces. Samples are then frozen and shipped to research facilities in Toronto, Guelph, Ont. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Stephen Petersen, head of conservation and research at the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, told the Washington Post that scientists can track information like hormone levels in new bears.

"We can see how the things we do affect stress hormones that appear in the scat, and that tells us what we can do better the next time we get new cubs," he said.

He said they use glitter because food colourings can block other health indicators or were metabolized.

Petersen said glitter that's safe to eat won't get absorbed by the polar bears' body.

Technique used on other animals

According to Motherboard, this glitter technique has been used on lots of different animals at the Smithsonian Zoo, including red pandas and cheetahs.

Brandie Smith, the zoo's associate director for animal care sciences, said another option is to watch the animals poop and collect it immediately, but what goes in will come out.

“The information we can collect on wildlife populations has developed exponentially from the poop techniques developed in zoos,” she said.

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