|By Adam M. Roberts
Amidst the cold Arctic snow and ice of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway,
and Russia massive polar bears travel hundreds of kilometers in search of food
and mates every year. They swim in frigid waters, eat and sleep in the open, and
hunt for their food of meat and blubber, notably from seals. Fewer than 30,000
polar bears exist in the wild today.
Bears, panting in temperatures over 110oF, are
repeatedly whipped and hit in the ear and face with a rod to force them to climb
stairs and go down a slide on the other end. (PETA)
In the Suarez Brothers Circus of Mexico, miserable polar bears
suffer in confinement and only travel where the circus takes them-even to the
warm-weather Caribbean. They live in oppressive heat, exhibit the stereotypic
behavior of rocking back and forth insanely in their cages, have little access
to water or air conditioning, and eat whatever food is given to them, including
dog chow and lettuce. Seven polar bears languish in these horrid
The circus is currently in Puerto Rico and faces cruelty charges
brought by the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources-charges the circus
has twice tried, and failed, to have dismissed. A separate suit brought by
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of Puerto Rico,
and private individuals has been filed in a federal court in Washington, DC to
keep the bears in the US. Marianne Merritt, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the
federal case, stated: "Allowing these arctic animals to be maintained in a
tropical climate in such inhumane and deplorable conditions is an abdication of
the government agencies' legal duties. Maintaining polar bears in Puerto
Rico is akin to placing an African elephant on the North Pole."
Diana Weinhardt, Chair of the American Zoological Association
Bear Technical Advisory Group, visited the facility and observed that some bears
flinched when the bears' trainer approached them with a camera and a four and a
half foot "fiberglass stick with a blunted point on the end." She added, "The
actions I thought were an indication that they have been hit with this stick
possibly on a regular basis as a guide to get a desired behavior."
A Puerto Rican veterinarian and zoologist, Dr. Pedro E. Nunez,
observed bears "caged individually in spaces too small for their size as the
lengths of their bodies were practically reaching from one end to the other." He
graphically continued, "They didn't have access to a pool and you could see that
some bottles of drinking water were dirty with tomato, lettuce and carrot. A
large quantity of bloody diarrhea, with a lot of mucus, was draining from one of
the cages, accumulating on the floor, and several flies, attracted by the
apparent bad odor of the blood, were clearly visible."
|Bears, panting in temperatures over 110°F, are repeatedly whipped and hit
in the ear and face with a rod to force them to climb stairs and go down a slide
on the other end. (PETA) |
According to a Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) review of United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports for the circus and a
video of the facility, Suarez Brothers is repeatedly out of compliance with the
Animal Welfare Act. The polar bears have only occasional access to pools of
water and fully air-conditioned holding areas and are receiving poor veterinary
treatment. In a letter to the acting administrator of the USDA Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service, the MMC offers this synopsis of the polar bears'
conditions: "The animals are constantly swaying and panting, suggesting that
they are distressed. It appears that neither the air conditioning system nor the
fans were operating. The time and temperature are recorded as being 10 a.m. and
112.8 degrees, respectively. The tape also shows that the bears are being
maintained in filthy conditions and that waste products, when they are being
removed from the transport enclosures, are being deposited directly on the
ground adjacent to the enclosures."
At least one animal already has died at Suarez Brothers.
According to the MMC, "'Yiopa' died of heart failure due to dirofilariasis. With
proper treatment, this should not have been a life-threatening condition.
However, that animal was not provided veterinary care until he was in an
advanced stage of deterioration and was not treated in a timely fashion after
the diagnosis was made."
There is also a looming question about whether these polar bears
were captive born or taken (illegally) from the wild. Dr. Terry Maple, President
and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, notes that the circus's claim that one of the polar
bears was born in Atlanta is false. "These documents are not accurate, since the
Atlanta-born bear ("Snowball") died in a German zoo in 1994," Dr. Maple wrote.
He noted that the bear must have had another origin and that the circus's
records must have been doctored.
While the cruelty case is proceeding, at least 55 Representatives
and 16 Senators have weighed in to urge the USDA and the Department of the
Interior (DOI) to take appropriate action to ensure the well being of these
animals, including confiscating and relocating the polar bears. According to
Congressman George Miller (D-CA), "It is disturbing that the two federal
agencies responsible for protecting polar bears would allow arctic animals to be
held in tropical climates." Several bipartisan measures have been introduced in
Congress, including an amendment to the contentious annual "farm bill," to
prohibit the exhibition of polar bears by carnivals, circuses, or traveling
There is widespread agreement that it is inhumane and
inappropriate for polar bears to be in the Suarez Brothers Circus. Now the
Courts, Congress, and the Administration can each take appropriate action to
ensure the poor bears' long-term well-being.