His name is Arturo. He’s the only polar bear in Argentina and he lives alone in an ugly stone enclosure in the Mendoza Zoo in Buenos Aires. Every day in the oppressive South American heat he rocks, he paces, he grimaces, he lies face down. Experts think he may be going insane.
Arturo has been at this zoo for over 20 years. For much of that time he had a companion — a bear named Pelusa. When Pelusa died in 2012, Arturo began a desperate downward spiral.
International social media knows him as the “world’s saddest animal,” and from all appearances, he truly is. Now friendless, Arturo seems lost and deeply unhappy. Anyone who sees him in the videos posted here can tell Arturo is in trouble.
“Arturo is in a small cage, with no space to walk, he has no stimulation — and the weather is awful for a polar bear,” Prof. María Fernanda Arentsen of the Université de Saint-Boniface told the Winnipeg Sun.
“You can see he is going crazy,” she explained. “He moves the way polar bears do when they are suffering a lot of stress. He has been filmed rocking back and forth in a way that signals distress. It breaks my heart to see it. I’m from Mendoza. I know how hot summer is. There is no way for him to escape the heat.”
Arturo suffers daily in heat that can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A small, dank pool a mere 20 inches deep is his only meager escape from the sweltering conditions. Every so often zoo officials provide him a pile of ice cubes to lie on, which for a time seems to make him almost blissfully happy, as in the photo below.
Truly, Arturo’s situation is heartbreaking. Despite his obvious need, however, the Mendoza Zoo, with the support of the government of Mendoza, Argentina, has blocked attempts to move Arturo to Canada.
The Assiniboine Park Conservancy in Winnipeg, Canada, wanted to bring Arturo to its new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre. The group began overtures in 2013 to make that happen. Now, sadly, that dream is dying.
Mendoza Zoo officials are adamantly against moving Arturo. The zoo’s medical board reportedly decided the two-day trip to a Canadian zoo would be too much for him, as Arturo is frail and nearing the end of his life.
“We must avoid a big mistake, like his death during the trip or upon arrival,” zoo director Gustavo Pronotto said in February. “One must evaluate the risks carefully. He is old, and this would require many hours of anesthesia.”
Forgive us if we wonder aloud whether the zoo’s reluctance to send him to cooler climes has more to do with maintaining a prime tourist attraction than the welfare of a depressed and lonely animal.
To see extended video footage of Arturo’s incredibly substandard living conditions and his sadly isolated life, watch this video:
Celebrities and Politicians Lobby for Arturo
Arturo’s plight has touched the hearts of celebrities, politicians and just about everyone else in recent weeks as his story went viral. He’s taking social media by storm, particularly Twitter, under the hashtags #freeArturo or just #arturo. Among the famous who are beating the drum loudly:
- Iconic actress and singer Cher tweeted to zoo officials in May: “Your hands are stained with his blood when he dies.” She’s continued to tweet her anger at Arturo’s situation since then.
- Actress Olivia Munn tweeted: ”Please help Arturo the Polar Bear who’s alone & baking in a zoo in Argentina.”
- Newt Gingrich recorded a video public service announcement seeking support to get Arturo moved, which you can see at this link.
Rules and Red Tape are Likely to Ensure Arturo Dies in Argentina
Perhaps public outcry might have overcome the concern over Arturo’s frailty. Incredibly, however, in February 2014 any forward progress for Arturo came to a screeching halt. Canada decided that, based on what Argentina was telling them, there aren’t enough recent medical records on Arturo to allow them to legally bring him into the country.
“There are very strict regulations that must be met to bring an animal into Canada,” Don Peterkin, chief operations officer with the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, told the Winnipeg Sun. “These regulations are in place to ensure the health and welfare of animals and animal-related industries so without the proper health records in place it’s simply not possible to obtain the permits required.”
Really? Arturo has been at the Mendoza Zoo for two decades, and yet they don’t have his most recent three years’ worth of medical records? Remembering that Argentina really doesn’t want to move Arturo, is it unreasonable to ask whether they’ve been 100 percent forthcoming?
Conversely, if the lack of records is real, does that mean Arturo is not getting any medical care at all? Either way, this is unacceptable. It’s an abominable way to treat an innocent, suffering animal.
Those looking askance at the zoo’s motivations will also wonder why the Mendoza Zoo recently cancelled a planned trip by experts from the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. After it became clear that Arturo probably won’t be moved, the experts planned to visit the zoo to assist in making much-needed improvements to Arturo’s enclosure.
In March, the zoo decided against allowing that visit. It gave no explanation. According to the conservancy, its offer remains in effect but the zoo hasn’t called them to reschedule.
Clearly, Argentina holds all the cards here and it’s not giving up Arturo, no matter the cost.
Argentina, Give Arturo an Opportunity for Happiness Before He Dies
“Arturo is in distress,” Rob Laidlaw from Zoocheck Canada told The Mirror. “They say there’s a risk if he is moved. But the risk is worth it. Arturo is walking dead right now.”
Admittedly, moving Arturo would be rolling the dice and playing with his life. At 29, he’s elderly and infirm. The question remains, however — for whatever time he may have left, shouldn’t he have his shot at living in more comfort with other bears for companionship?
Perhaps, if one could ask Arturo what he wants, he’d say “I’ll risk it. I want to get to Canada or die trying. Roll those dice for me.” Who could blame him?
Come on, Argentina. Give up those medical records and let Arturo go. Exotic arctic animals aren’t meant to languish in sad little South American zoos that can’t properly care for them. Show the world your concern for this bear and do what’s required to give Arturo a comfortable life.
Keep the pressure on to find a solution for Arturo. If you agree that authorities need to try getting Arturo safely to Canada, please sign this petition. Its target is the leadership of the Mendoza Zoo, who need to keep hearing from animal lovers everywhere that Arturo’s current situation is outrageous and unacceptable.
Photo credit (all images): You Tube/LordSpoda