UK’s new polar bear sparks controversy

Walker, the new addition to the Highland Wildlife Park

By Emma Smith

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is facing criticism after Britain’s second polar bear arrived at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig.

Walker, a 23 month old cub was transported from Rhenen Zoo in Holland and arrived at his new home in Inverness-shire last night.

The news is not being welcomed by some animal protection groups as it has been said by some that Mercedes should be the last ever polar bear kept in a UK zoo.

The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) have announced their concern at another polar bear being introduced into captivity in Britain.

Campaign Director Craig Redmond says:  “We are very concerned they have brought in a new polar bear and we fear it may encourage other zoos to do the same. It is like they have taken a step back 20 years as all other UK zoos have now stopped keeping polar bears.”

He said the organisation are now questioning the motives of Mercedes move to the Highland Wildlife Park from Edinburgh Zoo last year:

“Mercedes move to a more suitable enclosure came after years and years of complaints and while it was welcomed, no enclosure will ever be suitable. Now we are asking if Mercedes would have been moved at all if it was not their intention to bring in more bears for breeding all along. We think it was a plan to avoid the criticism they would receive for building an enclosure specifically for breeding purposes.”

Mercedes, 28, moved North last year and has been living solitary for the last thirteen years after her mate Barney died after choking on a plastic toy which was thrown into their enclosure.

Animal Collection Manager for the Highland Park, Douglas Richardson, says: “Walker arrived last night and he was let into the enclosure this morning. Mercedes was not that impressed but she had just woken up and found a stranger in her home.”

He is hopeful that the move will help conserve the species of this threatened animal.

“The polar bear European Endangered Species Programme coordinates the movement of animals around European zoo collections as part of the breeding programme. The decisions for these moves are largely based on the quality of the enclosures, and having one of the largest polar bear enclosures in the world I am pleased to say that Highland Wildlife Park was top of the list for Walker’s new home”.

It is hoped Walker will be able to start breeding in three years time when he is old enough but it will not be with Mercedes.

CAPS have also criticised the intention to breed the animals, saying: “there is no purpose breeding any species in a zoo. They are bred in order to continue captive populations- that’s not conservation.”

There are currently 20-25,000 polar bears living in the wild and although they are not currently endangered, their future is uncertain due to climate change.

Scientists have previously noted that zoos, on average, provide one million times less space for polar bears than their natural home ranges.