When we first learned about the plight of Arturo, the depressed polar bear living at the Mendoza zoo in Argentina, our hearts completely shattered. Arturo was transferred to Mendoza from the U.S. when he was eight years old and sent to live out his days in absolute misery in the sweltering zoo environment. In 2012, Arturo’s companion passed away leaving him in absolute isolation in the zoo, soon after this he developed depression. His suffering was readily evident from his staunch appearence and stereotypic behaviors, but despite the best efforts of animal activists who worked to have him transfered to a zoo in Canada – where at least the climate would be somewhat more suited to him – Mendoza zoo officials refused to release Arturo. And tragically, it is too late for Arturo to ever see this reality.
Arturo passed away on Sunday July, 3rd at the age of 31. Zoo officials claim that Arturo died as a result of a “blood imbalance,” he had lost a significant amount of weight and suffered from blindness and loss of smell.
This poor polar bear is a sad example of what happens when we put our own desire for profit or entertainment above the needs of wild animals. Arturo might be one seemingly extreme example of how captivity can negatively impact animals, but his story illustrates our own fault in thinking that we can recreate an environment that mimicks the wild for animals.
A polar bear never belonged in Argentina, or anywhere other than the Arctic, for good reason. These animals are designed to thrive on ice and spend their days hunting and challenging their minds by following their natural instincts. Arturo never got to experience this sort of life, but instead was giving a cool box with a mural of the Arctic for him to stare hopelessly at.
Looking at Arturo’s physical form and decline, it is emblematic of the larger problem with zoos. By allowing Arturo to waste away in captivity, we haven’t only wronged this one bear but the entire species. Polar bears are dwindling on the edge of extinction due to climate change. The polar bear’s natural habitat is receding at an unprecedented rate and we are largely to blame for this. Greenhouse gas emissions, primarily driven by animal agriculture, are causing ancient ice to melt and forcing polar bears to swim for miles to reach safe land. Consequently, these animals are turning into scavengers, forced to eat dolphins, plastic, and whatever else they can possibly get their paws on.
And all the while this is happening, we’re attempting to “save” these animals not by taking measures to protect their native habitat, but by placing them in captive environments like zoos.
It may be too late for Arturo, but we can all take action to protect polar bears with our daily choices. First and foremost, boycott zoos and other establishments that profit from holding wild animals captive, these places only exist thanks to ticket sales. Secondly, we can all help to conserve the polar bear’s natural habitat with our food choices. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and currently occupies over half of the world’s arable land resources, uses the majority of our freshwater stores, and drives deforestation. This system also causes rampant air and water pollution, land degradation, and is pushing countless species to the brink of extinction.
By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious land and water supplies and help protect the future for polar bears and countless other species. To learn more join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet movement.
Rest easy, Arturo.
Lead image source: Shirley Wallace/Twitter