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Thousands demand release of 'world's saddest bear' in Argentina

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 19, 2014 in Environment
Mendoza - Arturo is the only polar bear in Argentina, and he has gained a reputation as the "World's Saddest Bear." His enclosure looks like a prison cell, and temperatures where he lives can top 104 degrees.
With only a 20-inch deep pool to keep cool in, it's easy to see why the elderly bear might be depressed. His depression was touched off two years ago, when his companion Pelusa died, according to The Huffington Post. As the video shows, he can be seen pacing, swaying his head back-and-forth, and showing his teeth. Not looking like a particularly happy camper, at this zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, some 650 miles west of Buenos Aires.
"It's like he's waiting for death," said Maria Fernanda Arentsen, who lived in Mendoza for much of her life. She now lives in Winnipeg, Canada. More than 144,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Arturo be moved here, according to The Star.com.
Arentsen, a professor at Université de Saint-Boniface, got the ball rolling to have Arturo moved to the Assiniboine Park Zoo a over a year ago and the zoo offered to take Arturo in, but plans fell through, The Star reports.
Obtaining specific medical records for Arturo proved to be a problem, and that meant Winnipeg Zoo wouldn't be able to secure an import permit. Then, last February, the government of Mendoza vetoed the move and said that the massive bear wasn't healthy enough, The Star reports.
When Mendoza Zoo blocked a bid to move Arturo to the Winnipeg Zoo, which is home to the international Polar Bear Conservation Centre, according to The Mirror, the zoo claimed 29-year-old Arturo would not survive the two-day trip.
According to The Mirror, Zoo director Gustavo Pronotto said "The medical board decided unanimously that due to the high risks at his age, Arturo should not be moved."
Pronotto also said that "Despite his age, he is in good condition. But everything depends on the health of the animal and how he can withstand a 15,000 kilometer trip. We must avoid a big mistake. This would require many hours of anesthesia."
"The evaluation they did was visual, without touching him, observing him from a distance," Gabriel Flores, of the Ecologists United movement told The Mirror. "It was a half-way fake evaluation that doesn't convince us."
Rob Laidlaw of Zoocheck Canada puts it like this: "Arturo is in distriss. They say there's a risk if he is moved. But the risk is worth it," he said. "Arturo is walking dead right now.
The Winnipeg Zoo decided to try another route: To send a team to Argentina in late March to assess the big bear's health and living arrangements, and to offer improvements. However, the trip was cancelled last minute at the request of the Mendoza Zoo.
In the wild, polar bears live 25-30 years, the Huffington Post reports. Their habitat is north of the Arctic Circle up to the North Pole. Some can live a little further south.
Arturo, in his cramped enclosure paces, and paces some more, and lies down in his tiny pool. He is really being denied the right to be a polar bear — in the wild, out hunting seals where he belongs.
When Ian Stirling, an expert on polar bears, watched the video, he said that Arturo was demonstrating severe stereotypical behavior, which is a repetitive activity performed as a coping method, The Star reported. Based on what he saw, Arturo has "little enrichment or diversification of activities."
"You can see he is going crazy. He moves the way polar bears do when they are suffering a lot of stress," Arentsen told The Mirror. "He has been filmed rocking back and forth in a way that signals distress. It breaks my heart to see it."
The petition is addressed to Argentina's President Cristina Fernanda de Kerchner, and it has even spurred celebrities such as Cher and Olivia Munn to get involved. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is encouraging people to get involved, per The Huffington Post.
Arentsen told The Mirror that she thinks the Mendoza Zoo officials don't want to lose an attraction that brings in revenue.
It is a very sad day indeed, when animals are treated as if they have no value unless they are entertaining people.
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