6th October 2022

The festive season is fast approaching, so Freedom for Animals wanted to highlight the the issues surrounding the wonderful polar bear - another infamous inhabitant of the magical North Pole!

Polar bears have evolved throughout millenia to become perfectly adapted to thrive in the harsh environment of the Arctic tundra; typically traveling hundreds of miles in the search for food and sustenance. If you were to imagine an animal so incredibly wild and free, the polar bear would come to mind for many.

Yet at present there are over 300 captive polar bears housed in zoos throughout the world, who are forced to live in enclosures designed to stifle their explorative nature and confine them to a life of captivity in the name of human entertainment.

Polar bears in the United Kingdom

There are 12 polar bears incarcerated in zoos within the UK - 8 are housed at Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP) in Yorkshire, and 4 individuals at Highland Wildlife Park (HWP) in Scotland. Both zoos are actively breeding from these polar bears, with the female bear Flocke, at YWP, mother to three cubs, and Victoria, at HWP, mum to baby Brodie. A new birth should be a happy occasion, but for polar bears who are unlucky enough to be stuck in a zoo, it’s anything but. From past occurrences - an example being in 1992, when Flamingo Land born babies Millie and Jason were sedated and shipped off to a fate unknown at a Japanese zoo - polar bear juveniles are ripped away from their families at around 18months old and dispatched to various zoos across the world, due to a lack of space in captivity to house them together. In the wild, polar bear cubs stay with their mothers until around 30months of age.


Many zoos - including YWP with their “Project Polar” initiative aimed at conservation measures for polar bears - will claim that the breeding programme is conservation focussed. Yet, shockingly, no zoo-bred bear can be released into the wild. They depend on sea ice for hunting and breeding in the wild - with the mother bear typically teaching her young all the necessary skills needed to survive the harsh environments faced - however, in zoos, zookeepers take a big role in feeding, allowing bears to get used to unnatural human interaction and losing the opportunity to develop their natural instincts to hunt and forage.

The conservation con

The natural habitat of polar bears is disappearing. The species faces many challenges in the wild due to climate change and the developing loss of sea ice, creating issues in their search for food and declining natural habitat. Their numbers are steadily decreasing from the approximate 25,000 wild souls left.

Zoos claim to play an important role in saving them from extinction, however, if none of these bred individuals are going to be released, how is that possible?

Sure, the captive individuals may help to raise awareness and evoke empathy to some degree, but so could in-situ conservation measures and appropriate sanctuaries. Visitors learn nothing about the natural habitat of polar bears by visiting these establishments. They see a shadow of the polar bear's true personality and beauty, as they are suffering immensely in a fake environment. We cannot forget the zoos primary focus when breeding any animal - getting paying visitors through their doors for profit.

Polar bears are the largest living land carnivore on Earth, with adult males reaching up to 3m in length! However, despite their physical need for room to roam, zoos offer them a pitiful one-millionth size of space compared to their wild surroundings. As a result, these intelligent and remarkable animals suffer extreme mental and physical health issues in captivity, with infant mortality rates as high as 65% in zoo environments. Captive housing can never provide the necessary stimulation polar bears need to thrive, so the species often manifests this stress by developing zoochosis stereotypies, including shaking their heads constantly and pacing relentlessly or swimming in circles. Sadly, they suffer from captivity related illness more than any other species in captivity - alongside orcas and cetaceans.

Mix this lacking environment with the pointing, cheering and flashing cameras from the hundreds of public visitors day in, day out, and you have a reality that is no less than disastrous for these beautiful beings.

The exploitation must stop. It is clear from detailed and on-going research that polar bears are not equipped to live in the enclosed surroundings of a zoo. They are notoriously unable to thrive in such conditions, and, as no bears are able to be released into the wild due to welfare and safety concerns, they are not a species that should have any part in a zoo breeding programme. It is unacceptable to breed these individuals into a lifetime of imprisonment. Doing so not only fails to help the conservation of the species entirely, but also causes immeasurable suffering.

Help us help animals today!

To find out more on the issues surrounding zoos and why they are so disastrous for animals, visit our zoo page

You can also donate to help fuel to the fight for an end to the captivity of animals, or become a Freedom Champion and set up a monthly gift to help us better plan for our future campaigns

- 5th October 2022