In an ideal world there would be no polar bears in zoos, for if ever there is an animal that doesn’t belong in a zoo it’s the polar bear.
These Arctic giants have huge ranges in the wild, traveling many of hundreds of miles in their search for food. They have evolved over millennia to exist and thrive in the harsh environment of the Arctic. It is our belief, based on considered scientific evidence, that polar bears are a species that should never be bred in captivity, nor should they be actively sourced for captivity from the wild. However, even if this ideal state were to be achieved, there would still be problems and issues around what to do with cubs found orphaned in the wild and “problem bears” captured in populated areas.
Sadly, most captive polar bears are kept in facilities, and often in climates, which are totally unsuitable. Only a very few facilities provide sufficient space for the bears to live anything approaching a contended and fulfilling life. So it is not surprising that many captive polar bears manifest symptoms of extreme stress, such as continually shaking their heads, pacing up and down their enclosures or swimming in a stereotypical fashion.
Captive polar bears, along with orcas and other cetaceans, suffer from more sickness and psychologically related illness than any other animals kept in captivity.
We are compiling a comprehensive directory of all the polar bears currently kept in captivity and of the facilities where they are kept. If you would like to help with this work then please get in touch.
We have three main goals:
- An end to all captive polar bear breeding programmes. Many of the cubs born in captivity die within a few years, or even months, of birth. Breeding polar bears in captivity can never “save the bears” from extinction, nor repopulate the wild. No captive-born polar bear has ever been successfully released into the wild; indeed to do so would be contrary to IUCN regulations.
- The upgrading and improvement of substandard facilities holding captive polar bears to provide modern, state of the art “off exhibit” and “on exhibit” areas that meet the highest possible standards for housing, enrichment, general welfare and veterinary services. Air conditioning, water features and a total area of at least 8,000 square metres (2 acres) per animal are, we believe, the minimum essential for high welfare standards to be maintained. To read more on the basic welfare requirements for captive polar bears click here.
- Where the above cannot be achieved facilities must be closed, with the polar bears transferred to modern, high standard facilities in sanctuaries or zoos.
You can help us by visiting zoos that have polar bears, collecting photographs, videos and information on them and submitting it to us.
Zoos are too small for some species, biologists report (New York Times 2003). Opens in a new window.
First killer whales, now polar bears? PETA goes after SeaWorld again (San Diego Union-Tribune 2017). Opens in new window.
Polar bears in captivity: Does it help or hinder conservation? (DW 29 February 2016). Opens in new window.
The Bear Conservation Captive Polar Bear Directory lists 152 zoos, aquariums and parks (including one circus) known to be keeping polar bears at present, to be planning to do so or to have done so in the recent past. A number of these already have detailed entries describing their facilities and husbandry and more are being added every week.
We have listed 315 captive polar bears; in all likelihood there are others we are not yet aware of. To date 70 of the bears have detailed biographical entries (follow the links from the directory). More are being added every week.
Once completed this information will be available via this page, in condensed form, in a downloadable spreadsheet.
Page updated 14 January 2020