Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City zoo tries to save Argentine polar bear

Old animal 'going insane' from heat, lack of space

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The last polar bear known to live in captivity in Argentina is the focus of a Winnipeg-based rescue effort to bring the aging animal north.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is willing to take in 25-year-old Arturo. Born in captivity, the aging polar bear has spent 20 years in the hot Argentine climate at a Mendoza, Argentina, zoo.

"The Assiniboine Park Zoo has indeed spoken to the Mendoza zoo regarding their potential need to relocate a polar bear, and we have offered our facility as an option for them," Tim Sinclair-Smith, the Winnipeg zoo's director of zoological operations, said in an email Friday.

A distressing YouTube video posted March 26 is triggering the calls for international intervention.

A Winnipeg woman, originally from Argentina, is reportedly pushing the campaign here but could not be reached for comment Friday.

In the 54-second YouTube clip, Arturo is shown pacing forward and backward, swaying side to side, again and again across a small space barely bigger than himself. Sporadically, he mouths at the air, his lip curling back over his teeth.

The behaviour is a sign of an animal crazed by lack of space and heat stress, said Bill McDonald, the chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Humane Society.

In response to the video, the humane society called on the Canadian government to use diplomacy to persuade the Argentine government to release the bear.

"For God's sake... get that bear out of there," McDonald said.

"Animals in captivity express themselves if they're going insane by stereotypical movements. That's what the two steps forward, two steps back is and his head rocking back and forth.

"It's basically going insane," he said.

The Argentina eEmbassy is in downtown Ottawa within sight of the Parliament Buildings. A call for comment was not answered Friday.

Mendoza officials have rebuffed the Winnipeg zoo's offer.

"We have been informed by the Mendoza zoo that although they appreciate our offer, they have elected not to relocate their remaining polar bear at this time," Sinclair-Smith's email said.

But Winnipeg zoo is leaving the door open.

"We have let them know that our offer still stands and we will, of course, keep the public informed if anything further develops," Sinclair-Smith said.

This isn't the first bear to suffer from zoos in climates too hot for the Arctic animal to tolerate.

Another bear in a zoo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, exhibited similar behaviour before it had a heat stroke and died in December. Several years ago, a group of polar bears were rescued in Mexico.

The latest death left Arturo as the only polar bear in captivity in an Arguentine zoo, McDonald said.

"This bear will die of heat stroke like the other one. The heat is killing them," he said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 A10

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