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City zoo can't import Argentine polar bear

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Arturo has lived in his dismal, warm enclosure at the zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, for the past 20 years.

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Arturo has lived in his dismal, warm enclosure at the zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, for the past 20 years.

A polar bear languishing in an Argentine zoo won't be coming to Winnipeg's International Polar Bear Conservation Centre after all.

Arturo doesn't have the required medical records and documentation needed for a Canadian import permit, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy said in a news release Wednesday.

Without specific medical records dating back a minimum of three years, a permit can't be issued. Mendoza Zoo representatives in Argentina say they can't fulfil this requirement, the conservancy said.

"There are very strict regulations that must be met to bring an animal into Canada," chief operations officer Don Peterkin said in the release.

"These regulations are in place to ensure the health and welfare of animals and animal-related industries, so without the proper health records in place, it's simply not possible to obtain the permits required."

The Winnipeg animal lover who brought the plight of Arturo to the attention of the public and zoo officials here questioned the Mendoza Zoo's claim not to have the polar bear's medical records.

"This is difficult to believe in a zoo where they have so many vets," Maria Fernanda Arentsen said. "How can you explain that?"

The arctic animal, stuck in a dismal enclosure in a steamy climate for the last 20 years, has attracted the concern of people around the world and raised the hackles of a few Argentines, Arentsen said.

"There are a lot of people who are trying to do good things for animals, but unfortunately there are also other people who are attached to old ways to live and they care more about themselves than the welfare of the animals," she said.

Late last year, when polar bear conservation experts were going to visit Arturo, they were called "pirates" on a Mendoza radio show and accused of trying to "steal" the bear because of his "market value," Arentsen said.

On Wednesday, she said most Argentines want better conditions for Arturo and other zoo animals.

"We have more than 300,000 signatures asking for the release of the bear... The majority of people want things changed."

Winnipeg zoo officials said they will be connecting by Skype with Arturo's keepers in Argentina Friday to assess the polar bear's health. They've also offered to send a member of Winnipeg's veterinary team to Mendoza in the near future to help evaluate Arturo's current environment and, if possible, provide recommendations for improvements, the release said.

Offering the Mendoza Zoo a helping hand rather than pointing a finger of blame could go a long way to improving relations and ultimately conditions for Arturo and other zoo animals there, Arentsen said. "It would be nice if authorities can intervene to offer friendship."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2014 B3

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