Born Free’s Powerful New Report Reveals The Suffering Of Polar Bears In Zoos Throughout Europe; This Must End!

On International Polar Bear Day, the Born Free Foundation launched its new report, Born to Roam: The Suffering of Polar Bears in Zoos, exposing the true extent of the suffering that polar bears endure in zoos across Europe.

151 of these magnificent, wide-ranging, apex predators are incarcerated in zoos throughout Europe, including 12 in two establishments in the UK, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Highland Wildlife Park. Using powerful, individual case studies, the report outlines the history and continuing plight of these captive polar bears and underlines, through real-life examples, the ethical, welfare, and public safety concerns associated with the keeping of polar bears in zoos.

In the wild, polar bears roam across vast natural ranges that are typically equivalent in size to the whole of Austria. In contrast, in zoos, they are confined in enclosures that are often only the size of an Olympic swimming pool, and in countries where they are completely unsuited for the warm climate.

“The tragedy of keeping polar bears in captivity is not only that so little has been done to address the problems they endure, but that zoos actively perpetuate them. Zoos continue to breed polar bears. They continue to house them in devastatingly inadequate settings. They continue to disseminate the myth that the lifetime incarceration of polar bears in zoos is somehow addressing the conservation threats the species faces in the wild,” Will Travers OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Executive President, said in a statement. “On the contrary, as this report indicates, zoos may be making matters worse for wild polar bears rather than better. The message is simple. No more breeding, no more imports, phase-out the suffering – and have the honesty and integrity to recognize what has been staring us in the face for decades: that polar bears cannot endure a life in zoos.”

Horrifyingly, the majority of polar bears in European and North American zoos develop and display deep-seated, abnormal stereotypical behaviors, such as compulsive pacing and neck-twisting, as a consequence of long-term psychological damage. Their lifespan is often significantly reduced as a result of inappropriate diet, and several bears have died in zoos following ingestion of foreign objects.

The comprehensive report also emphasizes the serious carbon costs associated with the building and maintenance of polar bear enclosures and the provisioning of food. Concrete production is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while steel production contributes a further 8%; both of these materials are frequently used in zoo-based polar bear enclosures.

On top of the animal welfare issues, it calls into question whether, by keeping these animals, zoos are doing more harm to the planet than the good they claim. This report comes 37 years after Born Free’s first commissioned report, which pulled back the curtain on the reality facing captive polar bears. It shines a light on the archaic, unethical, and damaging practice of keeping polar bears in zoos; and reveals that, sadly, 37 years from their original report, very little has changed. Despite the growing volume of evidence highlighting the plight of polar bears in zoos, many zoos persist in keeping and breeding the wild bears, and show no sign of changing their policy moving forward.

Independent research released by Born Free just weeks ago demonstrates that the tide of public support is changing to put an end to keeping large animals, such as polar bears, in captivity. Polling conducted by Opinion Matters, commissioned by Born Free, found that 76% of those surveyed believe it is very or quite important that the next UK government introduce measures to phase-out the keeping of large, wide-ranging animals in zoos, wildlife parks, and other captive facilities.

Therefore, Born Free is, once again, reiterating its call to end the capture of polar bears for captivity, as well as attempts to breed them. Every effort must be made to ensure that the polar bears that remain in captivity are provided with the best possible conditions to try and meet their welfare requirements and ensure their well-being for the rest of their lives. Moving animals, when feasible, to the best available facilities in the most appropriate climate should be a priority.

Born Free is urging the public to read and share this report with the relevant government body that legislates zoos in their country. Please urge your legislators to take action to bring this travesty to a permanent end.

“When society looks back in years to come, people will rightly be shocked that zoos ever thought that they could keep such wide-ranging animals, that are fine-tuned to survive in such extreme conditions, in a captive environment,” Chris Lewis, Born Free’s Captivity Research Officer, concluded. “The zoo industry must remove their blinkers and accept that the welfare needs of polar bears cannot be met in captivity and humanely bring this practice to its long-awaited end.”

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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