Is This Polar Bear the World's Saddest Animal?

Activists are trying to rescue Arturo from his overheated Argentine zoo.

Activists Try to Rescue Arturo, the World's Saddest Polar Bear, From an Overheated Argentine Zoo

(Photo: Save Polar Bear Arthur/Facebook)

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

More than 66,000 people have signed an online petition asking a zoo in Argentina to move a heat-stressed polar bear named Arturo to a cooler, more humane facility in Canada.

Videos shot at Mendoza Zoological Park in Argentina show Arturo, his fur covered in dark gray spots, repeatedly walking forward and backward in a dry, rocky pen, which reportedly regularly hits 104 degrees.

Activists have a reason for their fears: A polar bear named Winner died of heat exposure at Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina in 2012.

Although he was not familiar with Arturo specifically, Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International, said he doubted the heat alone was contributing to the bear’s plight. "There is a very successful polar bear exhibit in Australia, for example," he said. "But it is surely true that providing for the welfare of a cold-adapted species in a hot, especially if it is humid, climate increases and complicates the challenges in assuring polar bear welfare."

Arturo's enclosure may not be sufficient. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums polar bear care manual suggests that polar bears need pools in which they can swim to cope with the heat and humidity of non-arctic environments. The enclosure at Mendoza has a pool, but it is just 20 inches deep—not enough for Arturo to fully submerge—and it’s filled with stagnant water, according to a report from the Daily Mirror. Mendoza Zoo is not AZA accredited and is thus not required to follow the organization's guidelines.

Arturo is said to have been depressed for the past two years, ever since the death of his companion, a female named Pelusa. He has lived at Mendoza Zoo for the past 28 years. He is now the only polar bear in Argentina.

Animal rights activists earlier this year tried to get Mendoza Zoo to move Arturo to another facility. Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo, which opened a polar bear conservation center in 2012, came close to taking the animal.

But Canada would not issue the necessary import permit because Mendoza Zoo could not provide three years of medical records for Arturo, according to a statement issued by Assiniboine in February.

"There are very strict regulations that must be met to bring an animal into Canada," said zoo executive Don Peterkin. "These regulations are in place to ensure the health and welfare of animals and animal-related industries, so without the proper health records in place it's simply not possible to obtain the permits required."

In addition to the petition, hundreds of donors on Reddit have raised more than $5,500 in Arturo's name. The money, earmarked for Polar Bears International, which is not involved with the effort, is intended to "help the charity take action for him [and] other suffering polar bears and their habitats around the world."

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