Arctic Ghosts – Polar Bears In Captivity

I’ve seen a polar bear before. It was in Tallinn Zoo, Estonia. It had a small, reconstructed former military storehouse as an enclosure, with a pool hardly big enough to submerge itself in. The enclosure had a closed roof, so it’s doubtful the bear had ever even had the opportunity to walk in snow.

I took some photos of it eating. Feeding time was undoubtedly the highlight of its dismal days. When I walked away, I felt somber, angry and deeply troubled. I wrote a poem about the experience. My heart broke anew with every line I put down.

It’s been years since I looked at the photos I took. I feel disgusted with myself that I didn’t make a complaint, that I didn’t try to put together a petition of some kind to have the bear re-homed, that I didn’t do more than write a poem.

I’ve just been on the Tallinn Zoo website to see that a new enclosure has been built for the resident polar bears. It was 2011 when I visited the zoo, and the new enclosure was completed in 2017. The build was initiated by visitors Veronika Padar and Olivia Elise Luggenberg. They met in front of the barren polar bear enclosure and were hugely distressed by what they saw. They expressed their concerns to the zoo and a major fundraising campaign followed.

While the new enclosure is an enormous improvement to the grim, military storehouse, it does have its downsides: it’s small, there’s nowhere for the bears to hide and elevated areas for the bears to climb on are minimal. I’ve also read that the bears have restricted times in which they’re allowed out into the enclosure, which, unless there’s maintenance going on, is just ludicrous. This enclosure in no way, shape or form replicates their Arctic habitat, but at least when snow does fall in Winter, they can feel it now.

You can read more about the enclosure and how it came about, as well as see a photograph of it here if you wish.

2 thoughts on “Arctic Ghosts – Polar Bears In Captivity”

  1. Wasn’t there something similar with a polar bear kept on display in a shopping plaza somewhere in China? He was showing signs of depression from being kept in such a sterile, monotonous environment. I’ll have to check if anything changed with that (hopefully it has). Empathy – either you have it or you just completely lack it I guess?

    1. I hope it has too. I really recommend having a look at the photography of Sheng-Wen Lo. He has a series called White Bear in which he’s photographed polar bears in captivity across Europe and in China.

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