“King of the North” © Ellen Walker – used with permission

Like all other animals bears are sentient beings who think, reason, experience pain and suffer illness.  And bears are BIG.  Some are VERY BIG and need more space than most zoos can provide.  And the biggest of all are POLAR BEARS.


    • Polar bears are classified as marine mammals and whilst most of their lives are spent on sea ice they are strong swimmers and, in captivity, need large, deep pools.  These should not be chlorinated and, ideally, there will be access to salt water pools.
    • Polar bears are carnivores and in the wild their diet is almost exclusively meat-based.  In captivity they need balanced diets and should have irregular feeding opportunities rather than regular feeding times.  Bear have a phenomenal sense of smell and food can be hidden to provide enrichment opportunities.  In hot weather some food can be supplied in blocks of ice.  Food should include whole carcasses and whole fish to stimulate the bears natural feeding behaviours.
    • Polar bears need space but they also need company and should be able to socialise with at least one other polar bear.  Where two or more bears are kept together they should be able to occupy separate spaces when they wish and must be provided with places to hide if they feel threatened.
    • Like all captive bears, polar bears need a variety of substrates in their enclosures.  Natural surfaces, both hard and soft, should be provided.  There should be soft areas for digging, shaded areas for shelter, rocks for climbing, places they can go away from public view, denning areas, vegetation and soft materials such as straw and wood-chips.
    • Polar bears have excellent hearing.  Noise and vibrations should be kept to a minimum with the public prevented from banging on enclosure windows and no constant background music or loudspeaker announcements that the bears can hear.
    • In the wild polar bears wander over territories of hundreds of square miles.  Every bear needs acres of space filled with places to roam, to rest and sleep, to build dens, to forage and hunt, to swim and to climb.  Enclosures must be designed so that the bears have panoramic views and are not enclosed in pits or walled structures.
    • Polar bears have evolved to live in harsh, cold climates.  They can tolerate heat, up to around 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), but need shade, at least one area for each bear in an enclosure.  They should have access to air-conditioned indoor areas.

In 2002 the Canadian Polar Bear Protection Act was enacted, the so called “Manitoba Standards”, which sets out minimum accommodation standards and other regulations relating to captive polar bears.  You can download a copy here..

You can find out more on our Captive Polar Bears page.

Page updated 06 February 2021