On 27th February 2023, International Polar Bear Day, the international wildlife charity Born Free launched a new report exposing the true extent of the suffering of polar bears in zoos across Europe. The report, titled “Born to Roam: The Suffering of Polar Bears in Zoos”, outlines the continuing plight of the polar bears that are still incarcerated in zoos (151 in Europe and 61 in North America). Russia keeps the highest number (at least 43), followed by the US (39) and Germany (27). The report talks about the sad lives of Arturo, Gus, Nord, Szenja, Friida, Raspi, Victor, Anana, Nora, Kunik, Jerka, Lars, Knut, Barney, Andy, Anton, Umka, Franz, Gosha, Ivan Berit, Berlin, and other captive polar bears.
In the wild, these animals roam across vast natural ranges that are typically equivalent in size to the whole of Austria, but the report shows that, in captivity, they are confined in enclosures that are often only the size of an Olympic swimming pool, and in countries where they are completely unsuited to the warm climate. Born Free claims that the majority of polar bears in European and North American zoos develop and display deep-seated, abnormal stereotypic behaviours, such as compulsive pacing and neck-twisting, as a consequence of long-term psychological damage.
Will Travers OBE, Born Free’s Executive President, stated in a press release, “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. 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 recognise what has been staring us in the face for decades: that polar bears cannot endure a life in zoos.”
The public is also against keeping these majestic animals in zoos. Research released on 16th February 2023 by Born Free has shown that 76% of the 2000 UK residents polled believe it is very or quite important the next UK government phase out the keeping of large animals in zoos—like polar bears, giraffes, or elephants.