The keeping of wild animals in captivity remains a controversial issue. However, anyone taking a look at a family of polar bears recently at Peak Wildlife Park in Staffordshire, England, can’t help but notice that they appear to be enjoying a new feature of their five-acre enclosure.
In a video posted to the park’s Instagram page, polar bear mother Hope and her twin boys, Nanook and Noori, can be seen enjoying a new water raft made for them by a keeper, jumping off rocks, landing on the raft and floating around.
“Our team had seen that another zoo had tried to build one but had been unsuccessful,” Becky Parsons of Peak Wildlife Park told Newsweek, “Our keeper, Mike, loves building enrichment for our animals and loves a challenge, so he got in contact with the other zoo and built it!”
The polar bears’ enclosure includes an enrichment activity for them, which changes daily, “to keep them mentally, physically and environmentally stimulated,” said Parsons.
“We do this in numerous ways through their enclosure design,” she added. “For example, their wood chip piles replicate piles of snow and ice, which they like to jump, sleep and role in. There are also plenty of natural hills, mounds and trees, all which mimic the natural landscape.
“Their enclosure is made up of two differently designed areas, they have full access to both areas so they can choose where they want to be. One area is more open whereas the other has more trees. Both areas have large deep pools, one is 8 meters deep and the other is 6 meters deep. They spend a lot of their time in the water so it is great they have access to these pools.”
Hope, the mother polar bear is eight years old, and her twin boys will be two in November.
“They came from a zoo in Sweden, which had unfortunately closed down, so they needed re-homing.” said Parsons.
The breeding and keeping of animals in captivity is a divisive subject but there may be a case for looking at the issue on a species-by-species basis.
Renowned British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, speaking at a Q& A session ahead of the launch of his BBC series A Perfect Planet in 2020, said: “Some animals thrive in captivity and some don’t. Eagles should not be kept in zoos. But there are monkeys, for example, which do perfectly well and animals in aquaria do very well indeed.
“It’s important that the public at large should be aware of the reality of these things and get close to them, see what they smell like, what they sound like, what the reality of the thing is.
“I justify zoos providing they are scientific, providing they are selective about what they keep and provided they keep them to the highest possible standards. That’s OK by me.”
Polar bears in the wild rely heavily on sea ice according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
“Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change—the primary threat to polar bears Arctic-wide—polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008,” the WWF says.
Their status is listed as “vulnerable” and there are between 22,000 and 31,000 left in the wild.
The polar bears at Peak Wildlife Park are fed a seasonal diet to further replicate their life in the wild.
“At the moment they are going into their winter diet and we are starting to feed them a more meat and fat-based diet,” Parsons said. “When they first arrived and over the summer we were feeding them more produce and fish and eggs.”
When asked about the debate on animals in captivity, Parsons said: “Firstly everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA)-accredited zoos, such as Peak Wildlife Park, ensure to reach the highest of animal welfare standards and work very closely with species monitors to ensure animals in zoos are genetically healthy, which is safeguarding the future of their wild counterparts.
“Zoos such as here also contribute to charities. We work with numerous charities such as Polar Bears International, as well as Lemur Love and Sphenisco, a Humboldt penguin charity. Peak Wildlife Park’s mission statement is ‘to take and inspire action to secure wildlife and wild places.’ We do this through all areas of the park, a large part of this being education. We provide not only a fun and exciting day out for school children but we also get to educate them on the animal species we have here, the threats they face in the wild and the actions they can take to help conserve these species. We also aim to educate every visitor that comes into the park, through signage and our daily keeper talks.
“Every year various pieces of research are [undertaken] by volunteers, employees and students. This is vital in helping learn about and supporting species both in zoos and out in the wild.”
“Every animal is a dog if you try hard enough,” said one Instagram user of the footage of the polar bears enjoying their new raft, while another said: “Bear knew the assignment lol.”
However, not all users were happy about the idea of captive polar bears, with one saying: “Give them freedom, they may like it too.”
Another user replied: “Freedom is them dying out for the most part.”
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