Polar Bear Smiles

A fellow blogger and pioneering photographer was sent an email recently about a facility in Canada where polar bears are kept and people allowed to swim with them. It was known that the photos in the email would intrigue and probably outrage the pioneering photographer and fellow animal lover. Sure enough, it piqued his interest and resulted in his most recent blog posting.

In his blog, the fellow expressed that it was inhumane what these Canadians are doing with four polar bears. And, on the face of it, this appeared to be true. Making polar bears live in captivity and eat dead fish, instead of roaming free to live the natural life of a polar bear, hunting on the ice for their favorite meal of seal, wandering on the tundra in summer, looking for small mammals, insects, roots and berries.

Instead of the natural order of things, in this place they have a large pool in which the bears may swim and people are permitted to swim with them, so to speak, safely behind a thick plate of glass. A very unnatural and, it was suggested the blogger, frustrating situation for the bears.

The photos included in the email are surreal and elicit certain emotions in the viewer – amazement, disbelief, concern, and finally sadness at the plight of these captive polar bears subjected to such strange circumstances.

But the careful reader does not take things at face value and assume that the Permanent Pilgrim and Pioneering Photographer’s point of view is correct … despite his apparent intelligence, worldliness and charm. The careful reader who sincerely cares about the well-being of the polar bears checks the facts by looking for information about the facility where they are swimming dreaming of children and their tasty flesh.

The Polar Bear Conservation and Education Habitat web site explains that these polar bears were in fact rescued from zoos and other places where they were mistreated and are now undergoing rehabilitation for the mistreatment they received. And the property on which they live is five acres, they are fed whole moose as well as fish and live outside in the snow all winter, digging caves in large snowbanks to wait out snowstorms like they would in the wild.

The web site tells the story of Nanook, a 24 year-old male polar bear who was captured after his mother was murdered by a mining company worker in the High Arctic. At only one year of age he surely would have died not yet having learned from his mother how to hunt.

For 23 years this poor bear suffered at the hands of humans. Mishandled he learned to fear men. Misfed his teeth rotted and wore down to stumps. He had a very unhappy life.

And then he was rescued by the Polar Bear Conservation and Education Habitat and came to live there in an environment where he would be comfortable, well fed and permitted to interact with a couple of girl polar bears named Nakita and Aurora.

Held in a small cage for many years, now Nanook is free to wander the large property, given clean straw on which he naps and a large pool in which to swim. He has changed as a result, becoming calmer and expressing his needs through body language. And most importantly, he has learned how to smile.

Many facilities that contain large animals like the polar bear do so purely for profit, but the Polar Bear Conservation and Education Habitat is a not-for-profit rescue and education center created to help the animals that are exploited elsewhere. It is too late for bears like Nanook to return to the wild, but at least at facilitates like this one, they may live out their days in comfort, serving their brethren through education and exposure of the mistreatment they once endured. There are other animals that are not so lucky.


To learn more about the great white bear go here.
To make difference, donate to the excellent Polar Bears International conservation group.