Bears belong in the wild and certainly not in private animal collections or substandard zoo accommodation. Unfortunately, there are still significant numbers of them on display in various parts of the world where their living conditions range from poor to awful with bears held in small, barren enclosures with little or no enrichment and in climates which are totally inappropriate.
Bear Conservation advocates for urgent steps to be taken to remove bears from facilities which are clearly unsuitable at best and harmful at worst.
In order to fulfill their undoubtedly valuable educational role and to improve animal welfare, zoos, parks and rescue centres need to stimulate their captive bears to behave as closely as possible to their wild counterparts. Evidence indicates that this can only be achieved through the provision of interesting and varied habitats combined with well planned enrichment programmes.
Our vision is of a world where all bears are given the necessary protection and space to live out their natural lives in the wild, but we understand that sometimes circumstances may prevent this.
We accept that sometimes bears may have to be relocated from the wild to a place of captivity, and that sometimes bears will be rescued from a captive environment and cannot then be released into the wild. But where and in what conditions are captive bears held, what is their state of health and state of mind? What do they eat and do they hibernate?
The ultimate aim of our Captive Bears Project is to compile and maintain an accurate list of all bears held in captivity and to document their history, welfare, health and living conditions. This is a huge task and, as such, has been broken down into a number of smaller tasks:
- Bear Watch UK: The first of these is to research and obtain detailed information on all captive bears in the United Kingdom. Use this link to access the information.
- Captive polar bear directory: The second is to compile a comprehensive list of the world’s captive polar bears and the facilities where they are held. You can view our directory of captive polar bears here.
- In 2021 we hope to begin “Bear Watch” projects in a number of countries around the world, with details of the bears, their life stories and the places they are kept.
Can you help us?
We are looking for volunteers to help us research and compile the above data. If you could help please get in touch and we’ll send you more information. We’re particularly keen to hear from potential volunteers outside the UK so that we can widen our data search area (but we still need more volunteers in the UK).
You can also help us by letting us know if you see any captive bears – if you can take a photograph and obtain any information about the bear or bears that would be even more helpful. Please contact us and let us know what you’ve found out; even just the name of a zoo, sanctuary, circus or show will be a great help.
We believe that, as a matter of urgency, the “bear-parks” of Japan, where up to 50 animals are kept in a single concrete pit, should be closed down. Local and national governments should outlaw private caged collections. In addition we:
- Strongly oppose the taking of bears from the wild specifically to populate zoos, animal parks and collections
- Call for the transfer of bears kept in substandard conditions to other certified facilities (including appropriate zoos) that can satisfy the necessary space and enrichment criteria
- To this end, work with zoos and other facilities to compose a database of captive bears and to formulate a plan to move captive bears from the worst to the best facilities
- Oppose the enforced socialising of captive bears
- Oppose the unregulated captive breeding of bears
- Encourage zoos to work on and/or fund field research into endangered bear species and their habitats
More on captive bears
To learn more about bear baiting, dancing bears, bear farms, circuses and shows, animal collections and bear sanctuaries please take a look at our special section on Captive Bears.
More on bears in zoos
Born Free Foundation (opens in new window)
See also our page on Bear Sanctuaries
Bear Watch UK our comprehensive list, by species, of all known captive bears in the United Kingdom and their locations.
Is it time to shut down the zoos? Thought provoking article published in the Observer newspaper on 2 February 2020 (opens in new window)
New future for endangered Japanese bears: four captive brown bears were given a new home the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. (Opens in new window.) Sadly, since this aticle was written, all four have the bears have died, having suffered number of health problems related to their time in captivity in Japan.
“Strategy for enriching the environment of captive Ursids“: paper from Current Science, July 2007 (downloads from our website).
The video below, published by Alexeo Chabounine in 2016, gives an example of just how bad zoos can be. These brown bears are in Kaliningrad Zoo. And sadly there are worse examples than this. If you have videos or photographs of bears in cpativity that you’d be prepared to share please get in touch.
We will be adding further information on specific cases and campaigns in due course.
Page updated 09 February 2021