Send 'sad' Argentinian polar bear to Canada, supporters urge

A Winnipeg woman is among a number of people fighting to get a polar bear out of a South American zoo and brought to Canada, but an animal-protection activist warns the chances of the bear being moved north are slim.

Winnipeg zoo's offer to take Arturo the polar bear was rejected

'Sad' polar bear in Argentinian zoo should come to Canada, say supporters

10 years ago
Duration 1:37
Supporters of Arturo, a polar bear currently living in a zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, are calling on officials to relocate the Arctic animal to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg.

A Winnipeg woman is among a number of people fighting to get a polar bear out of a South American zoo and brought to Canada.

Maria Fernanda Arentsen, who is originally from Argentina, believes the hot weather in her home country is taking its toll on Arturo, a 29-year-old polar bear living at the zoo in Mendoza.

"He looks so sad. He really looks in pain," Arentsen told CBC News.

"The weather, the conditions, you can imagine it — a polar bear in a desert, with a swimming pool 50 centimetres deep."

In Argentina, protesters have been rallying outside the Mendoza Zoo for the last two weeks to demand Arturo's release.

Bear not going anywhere

Arentsen has written to the Argentinian government and the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires, pleading to have Arturo transferred to a cooler climate.

'Arturo is basically the walking dead right now.'—Rob Laidlaw, Zoocheck Canada

She also contacted Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, which is home to the a new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

Officials with the Winnipeg zoo confirmed that they did offer to take Arturo, but the offer was declined.

"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," Tim Sinclair-Smith, the Assiniboine Park Zoo's director of zoological operations, wrote in a statement to CBC News.

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

Zoo making a statement, says critic

Rob Laidlaw with Zoocheck Canada said zoos usually do not give up an animal, particularly if they believe the animal is an attraction.

"They see giving up animals as an admission that they've done something wrong. They feel that by keeping these animals that they're making a statement about how good they are and how professional," he said.

While he is not a supporter of zoos like the one in Winnipeg, Laidlaw said he believes it would be a far better place for Arturo than the Mendoza Zoo.

The polar bear is clearly in distress, Laidlaw said, living in mid-20 C temperatures for six months of the year.

"I know people have said that there's a risk, should Arturo be moved, that there may be death along the way," he said.

"I think the risk is worth it because Arturo is basically the walking dead right now."

'It's basically going insane'

Bill McDonald, CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society, says Argentina's hot weather is just not suitable for a polar bear.

McDonald said a YouTube video of Arturo shows the animal rocking from side to side repeatedly — a potential sign, he said, of abnormal behaviour.

"This bear is doing what's called stereotyping or stereotypy movements. It's basically going insane," he said.

The humane society is calling on the Canadian government to pressure the Argentinian government to have the polar bear moved out of the Mendoza Zoo.

"Sometimes pressure has to come from government to government," McDonald said.

Arentsen said she plans to meet with Winnipeg zoo officials to discuss the next move.

"You go to the zoo and you see this poor animal suffering and in pain, and it's difficult to watch that," she said.