A polar bear in a South American zoo could soon call Winnipeg home.
A team of experts from Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo are heading to Argentina in November to evaluate the health of the bear, named Arturo. If he is strong enough, he will make the journey to the Manitoba capital.
Maria Fernanda Arentsen, who is originally from Argentina but now lives in Winnipeg, brought the bear to the attention of Assiniboine Park Zoo officials earlier this year.
She said the hot weather in her home country was taking its toll on the 29-year-old Arturo. For a few weeks during the spring, protesters had also rallied outside the zoo, in the Argentinean city of Mendoza, to demand Arturo's release.
Arentsen had written to the Argentinean government and the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires, pleading to have Arturo transferred to a cooler climate.
She figured Assiniboine Park Zoo was an ideal place, being the home to a new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre. She sent a YouTube video of Arturo to the zoo, showing the bear pacing in a small enclosure with little water.
“It was so painful to see him crazy, crazy about the heat — about the space,” she said.
Officials with the Winnipeg zoo then contacted their counterparts in Mendoza with an offer to take Arturo, but it was declined.
However, the Mendoza zoo has since had a change of heart. The Winnipeg team will bring vets take a look at Arturo and determine if he is healthy enough for a move.
"Eventually, could he be in with Hudson [the polar bear in Winnipeg] or other bears that we may have in the Journey to Churchill exhibit," said Don Peterkin with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. "We would hope so, but we don't know that yet."
The zoo currently houses one polar bear named Hudson, and the young male has become a major attraction for the zoo.
“We have a really unique opportunity I think to make a difference with this bear, and we can’t walk away. We can’t turn a blind eye. We have to try,” said Peterkin. “That’s why we need to go down with our veterinary staff, our husbandry staff, and do a full assessment.”
If Arturo is deemed well enough to make the trip, he would be in the Winnipeg zoo without a few months.
Artensen said the wait is well worth it.
“I am so happy! We have been fighting for nine months now,” she said.