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Argentinian polar bear might be bound for zoo

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When animal lover Maria Fernanda Arentsen saw a video of Arturo the polar bear in Argentina’s Mendoza Zoo, pacing back and forth, her heart sank.

"You can see Arturo going crazy," said Fernanda Arentsen. "They move like that when they are suffering from a lot of stress."

In the video, 28-year-old Arturo is shown pacing forward and backwards swaying his head and showing his teeth.

Fernanda Arentsen, a Spanish professor at Université de Saint-Boniface, approached the Assiniboine Park Zoo in January in hopes he may be a good fit for the future Journey to Churchill exhibit.

"I asked them for help and they answered very positively," said Fernanda Arentsen. "Then they communicated with the people in Mendoza, but they refused."

Don Peterkin, chief operating officer of the Assiniboine Park Zoo, said the Mendoza Zoo initially refused offers from the Assiniboine Park Zoo because they were still very new to each other.

"We don’t have a relationship with them like we do other zoos," said Peterkin. "When we contacted them it was the first time we’d ever met."

Fernanda Arentsen said animal activists in Mendoza protested for Arturo to be moved after 14-year-old Winner, a polar bear who lived in the Buenos Aires City Zoo, died from hyperthermia shock.

"We stepped right into the hornets’ nest," said Peterkin.

Originally from Argentina, Fernanda Arentsen was shown the YouTube video from a friend who still lives in the South American country.

"I am from Mendoza," said Fernanda Arentsen. "So I know how hot the summer can be. Especially when there is a wind, called Zonda, that comes from the mountains and it very dry."

Recently talks between Peterkin and staff at the Mendoza Zoo have opened up again. Peterkin said the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be sending four staff, including a veterinary team and interpreter, to Mendoza to assess Arturo and to help the Mendoza Zoo develop.

"They have a desire to upgrade," said Peterkin. "They see what we are doing and would like to do the same."

The trip will include two full days of meetings, but evaluating whether or not the old bear will be able to travel is the main goal of the trip, said Peterkin.

He said it will be different than moving Hudson from the Toronto Zoo because of his older age, but added that the late Debby lived to see 42 at Assiniboine.

"He’s an old bear and we don’t want to take any chances," said Peterkin. "But just flying back from Argentina takes two days and that can be stressful for a bear of any age or health."

Assiniboine Park Zoo has offered to take on all the costs of Arturo if he is healthy enough, and Peterkin said he is hopeful, but he warns there won’t be a new bear at the zoo within the year.

"There are a lot of processes that need to be completed first," said Peterkin. "The earliest would be late winter (or) early spring if everything works out."

As for Fernanda Arentsen, she is thrilled things are moving along.

"I am so happy," said Fernanda Arentsen. "It’s like heaven."

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