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.

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

The Knight and the Princess

She lay there unable to move. Her puppies took most of what she had left as they grew. She had little shade and some days the angle of the sun was such that it burned her pink skin, exposed by the mange that ate away at her.

The dirt around her was full of her feces and urine and she was made to lay in it day in, day out, without respite. It irritated her swollen raw skin and her eyes, leaving them sore and infected much of the time.

The pups at least were free to wander about the yard, but not her. She was tethered. Tethered on a short piece of wire that was put there when she herself was still a pup. The wire was wrapped around her neck and twisted at the back. It took her only a few attempts at pulling free to realize that this wire could and did tighten when she pulled at it. And no one came to loosen it. So it was tight almost as soon as it was placed around her neck, making it difficult to swallow, to drink and eat on the rare occasions when food or water was offered.

Unlike the wire, she grew. Despite the cruel circumstances of her life, she managed to grow.

A young boy would come regularly, but not often enough, and throw her scraps. At first he was too frightened to get close, but in time he would bring water as well. He looked around furtively every time, she guessed, to see if her captors were there and watching. Afraid maybe, that he would be treated similarly if caught in the act of kindness.

Gradually, the mange ate away at the rest of her coat and her skin was a mosaic of open infected sores. Her eyes could not open some days and she lay there alone in the dark. The puppies were all gone, she hoped to somewhere far far away and very different from this place.

In time, she grew into a medium-sized dog and the wire did not grow with her. It remained taut around her neck creating a deep impression there. Sometimes the wire would cut and wounds were created. Her voice became more plaintiff as it squeezed her larynx. She would call and call, begging to be released, but if anyone came, they only yelled and left again.

She imagined that she must have done something terrible and that this was her punishment, her hell. And she almost submitted, gave up and moved on.

One day, when he came he was more nervous than usual and his movements were quick and deliberate. He did not bring food or water, but something else was in his hands. She knew he was a friend and her bodied wiggled at the sight of him, but she was confused by his new movements. She heard a strange sound and felt him raise her up off the putrid ground. Then they were moving, quickly, and away!

She saw things she had never seen before; a large tree in the yard next door where they passed and the boy said something to a woman there. She sensed that they were co-conspirators in this thing that was happening.

He laid her upon a soft uneven surface and spoke to the woman who had followed them. A metal door closed next to her and then another and another. A strange noise began and the container began to vibrate and then move. But she wasn’t afraid because he was there and she was no longer lying in the dirt without hope.

A tall man with dark hair and a kind voice was speaking to the lady now, and she was carried into a strange building. They laid her on a shiny metal table and the man began to run his hands over her body and to look closely at the place where the wire remained around her neck. She sensed their shared sadness, but they touched her with such tenderness that she felt safe.

She awoke from what seemed like a very long and deep sleep. She did not know where she was but there were other dogs nearby. Curled up on a soft surface, she sensed right away that something was different. The tension around her neck seemed to have been released. In its place a sensation of cool moisture. Still tired, exhausted, she slept.

Upon waking again, she saw there was water. Clean water. In a bowl within easy reach. She lifted her head and drank. Water had never tasted so sweet. And swallowing seemed easier.

Over the next several weeks, this sweet dog was treated for her mange and given antibiotics and ointments to cure the open wounds on her body. The wound made by the wire that had been cutting into her neck her entire life was almost an inch and a half deep and at least an inch wide in places. It was a great challenge for the veterinarian to remove it without causing serious damage to life-sustaining arteries and veins.

Evidence of the cruel wire, so carelessly wrapped around her young neck would always be. But she could wear a harness and the kind lady and her young male savior would teach her to walk on a leash.

On the way home, her new home, with shade trees that were tall and full of flowers this spring, he whispered to her his promise that she would be forever free in her fenced yard with all the food and clean water she wanted. That she would NEVER again be tied or tortured. She didn’t know what he was saying, but liked the way it sounded. She wiggled her entire body and licked his face.

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Please do what YOU can to help prevent animal cruelty and to rescue mistreated animals like this one. Click HERE to help.