CBC Digital Archives

Polar bear rescued from Mexican circus

It prowls the globe's frozen north, a massive white bruin that fears no predator. The polar bear is both a totemic symbol of Canada and an important part of the Arctic ecosystem. But as four decades of intensive study has shown, climate change is threatening polar bear populations. CBC Digital Archives presents a dozen clips about how these bears of the great white north have gone from trophy hunter's quarry to nuisance to protected species.

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Kenneth has had to endure conditions no polar bear ever should. Sent to a German zoo in the 1980s after being captured near Churchill, Man., he somehow ended up with a circus in Mexico. Animal activists caught him on video, emaciated and desperately swaying his head. But U.S. wildlife authorities could not act until the circus entered the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Kenneth finds a new home in Tacoma, Wash., but as this 2002 CBC-TV documentary shows, it's a long road to recovery for this white giant.
• From 1980 to 1998 Manitoba exported about 35 polar bears captured in or near Churchill to sites around the world. Most of the bears sent away were "problem bears" that turned up in Churchill year after year. Some were orphaned cubs.
  • In 1995 Zoocheck Canada, a watchdog group that monitors how animals are treated in captivity, began examining Manitoba's polar bear export program. Its 1997 report found flaws in the province's screening process and concluded "the Wildlife Branch does not conduct on-site inspections of prospective recipients. There is nothing to prevent a facility from providing inaccurate information to bolster its chances of acquiring polar bears."

• Prompted by inquiries from Zoocheck, the province's department of natural resources began reviewing its polar bear export procedures in 1996. Two years later the provincial government imposed higher standards on facilities applying to receive polar bears, and in 2002 it passed the Polar Bear Protection Act.

• Kenneth and Boris, the polar bears seen in this clip, were still at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash. in 2009.

• The life expectancy of a polar bear in the wild is 15 to 18 years, and into the 30s in captivity. Debby, a polar bear at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, was 40 when she passed away in 2008.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 4, 2002
Guest(s): Traci Belting
Reporter: Mike Edgell
Duration: 12:59

Last updated: August 1, 2014

Page consulted on October 2, 2014

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