Imagine you’re a polar bear.
You live somewhere near the Arctic Circle where average temperatures range from about minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 32 degrees in the summer. You walk, swim and hunt your way along thousands of miles each year looking for your favorite meal — ringed seals — though bearded ones will do. You’ll likely live out your life within your relatively small home range of some 20,000 square miles.
Now imagine you’re Arturo.
The 900-pound polar bear was born in captivity in the United States in 1985. Eight years later, he was moved to Mendoza, Argentina, a city on the eastern side of the Andes. Now, at the ripe old age of 28, he’s Argentina’s last living captive polar bear.
And he’s bummed. Or at least that’s the argument of those — including Newt Gingrich — who are trying to have Arturo moved to a cooler climate.
Arturo lives at the Mendoza Zoo, where summertime heat averages 90 degrees. He is served 33 pounds of meat per day along with all the fruits and veggies he can scarf down. His real weakness is honey.
He spends his time roaming from an air-conditioned 375 square-foot cave to a 5,400 square-foot beach to a shallow pool some 20-inches deep. His caretakers toss blocks of ice in the pool keep it cool.
He used to have a companion — another polar bear named Pelusa, which means “fuzz.” Pelusa died of cancer two years ago. Since then, Arturo has been alone. The last polar bear to die in Argentina died during a heat wave in December 2012.
Some fear Arturo could be next.
These days, Arturo paces back and forth in his concrete home, tilting his head, showing his teeth and rocking from side to side. Animal rights advocates said the bear is showing signs of stress and depression — which prompted public outcry.
People all over the world have since campaigned to move him to the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada, a 10-acre oasis where polar bears can roam and swim in an 8-foot-deep rocky pool. Almost 600,000 people have signed a petition asking Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to have him moved there.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich posted a video in support and wrote: “If you love animals the way I do, you’re going to want to sign the petition to save the Argentinian polar bear, Arturo. This is very sad, and he should be saved, so sign the petition.”
Cher sent out a tweet, saying: “Don’t cry for him, Argentina? No tears of Mrs. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for tortured polar bear Arturo. Your hands are stained with his blood when he dies.”
He even has his own Twitter hashtag: #FreeArturo.
But Mendoza Zoo director Gustavo Pronotto told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Arturo is too old to travel nearly 6,000 miles to Canada. He said the bear would have to be sedated for the trip.
“We must avoid a big mistake, like his death during the trip or upon arrival. One must evaluate the risks carefully. He is old, and this would require many hours of anesthesia,” he told the DailyMail.
Pronotto said the bear’s behaviors, which some have attributed to distress, are merely due to old age. Polar bears in the wild live an average of 15 years to 18 years, though those in captivity often live into their 30s, according to the Montana-based nonprofit Polar Bears International. Pronotto said veterinarians in Argentina have examined Arturo and concluded that he should stay put.
“Arturo is close to his caretakers,” he told reporters. “We just want everyone to stop bothering the bear.”
The Assiniboine Park Zoo started communicating with Mendoza’s government officials last year to see about transporting Arturo to the Canadian facility. The Assiniboine Park Conservancy recently released a statement, explaining the Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires extensive medical records when importing an animal — and the Mendoza Zoo was not able to provide them.
The conservancy also stated it was not given access to the polar bear’s health records or permitted to participate in the health assessment conducted by the Argentinian veterinarians.
“When Mendoza informed us of their decision to keep Arturo, we extended an offer of assistance to help make recommendations for possible improvements to his care and living conditions,” the statement said, according to the AP. “Travel plans were made for the end of March but were cancelled at the request of Mendoza officials. Mendoza has not invited us to reschedule.”
But it’s not over. Mariana Caram of OIKOS-Red Ambiental said her Mendoza-based environmental group plans to challenge the veterinarian panel’s decision to keep Arturo in Argentina.
“I saw the bear last Thursday. He came out and he swam just a bit. He’s walking very slowly,” she told the AP. “They’ve expanded his pool but they still have yet to give him the room he needs to walk.”