Why These Photos Of Polar Bears In Captivity Are Anything But Cute

Are these bears really inspiring people to preserve wildlife? Or are they just being tortured and exploited?

Underwater World, China. 2015 PHOTOGRAPH BY SHENG-WEN LO

Underwater World, China. Credit: Sheng-Wen Lo

Will polar bears be nothing but a myth to our great-grandchildren? Currently, the global polar bear population is estimated between 22,000 and 31,000 bears, total. The U.S. Geological Survey indicates this number will decrease two-third by 2050.

For more than a decade, polar bears have been given a spotlight in the conversation about global warming. Despite high awareness of the polar bear plight, population declines have only sped up. Melting ice means bears can’t access seal hunting grounds, and subsequently females become malnourished and infertile.

Because polar bears have become a type of icon for global warming, they are often plucked from their natural habitats and put on display in zoos. This is done under the guise that the bear is being kept ‘safe’ or the polar bear exhibit might include information about wildlife preservation in order to inspire people to care about habitat destruction.

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/polar-bear-hugging-her-baby-in-zoo-enclosure/

“This baby will never know the wild home she was meant to live in. Nor will she understand what it truly means to be a polar bear.” Source: One Green Planet

Keeping polar bears in captivity is extremely cruel and exploitive. Polar bears are large creatures, meant to roam miles-long stretches of sea ice. A study of 11 polar bears in seven different zoos across the world revealed the bears spend a large portion of their time engaged in bored, anxious behaviours like pacing or head-bobbing.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/03/polar-bears-zoo/

Dalian Forest Zoo, China. Photo: Sheng-Wen Lo

Taiwanese photographer Sheng-Wen Lo spent a year photographing polar bears in captivity, exposing the strange and heartbreaking juxtaposition of the animals imprisoned, for his collection White Bear. “Combined with artificial habitats and props, the bears look very awkward. It’s a forced reality,” admits Lo.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2017/03/polar-bears-zoo/

Beijing Zoo, China. Photo: Sheng-Wen Lo

Climate-caused disturbances are particularly notable in Hudson Bay, Canada. Longer summers mean bears are left to forage on land for almost half the year, waiting for the water to freeze over again so they can re-commence hunting seals.

“We know that their body conditions are getting worse. They are getting thinner.” said Peter Molnar from Princeton University.

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