Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Behind the bars: polar bears in captivity

Captive Polar Bear
Polar bears suffer terribly in captivity

Bears are inquisitive and opportunistic and can suffer particularly badly in captivity.  Bears in zoos and circuses can display many abnormal behaviours, such as bar-biting, swaying from side to side, or even self-mutilation. 

The Born Free Foundation has long campaigned to end the confinement of bears and all wild animals for ‘entertainment’. 

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the UK has not become "polar bear-free". After many years of campaigning, Born Free was instrumental in securing the transfer of Mercedes, the last polar bear at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, to their sister site at Highland Wildlife Park. Mercedes had been kept in a wholly unsuitable "traditional" bear enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo since 1984. Highland Wildlife Park brought in a young male from the Netherlands, just prior to Mercedes’ death in 2011. Another male polar bear was then imported in 2012 from a zoo in Germany and a female arrived in March 2015. The park has been very open about their plans to encourage the bears to breed.

The arrival of a male polar bear called Victor in August 2014 represented the first time that a polar bear has been kept in a zoo in England since the death of Mandy at Flamingo Land in 2004. (However, we believe that there is a female polar bear at a private facility in Oxfordshire). Victor was joined by a second polar bear, a 2 year old male called Pixel in March 2015.

There are considerable threats facing wild polar bear habitat, but Born Free firmly believes that breeding more bears in zoos has no genuine role to play in polar bear conservation. Furthermore, experience of polar bears in zoos the world over has shown us time and again that polar bears simply do not fare well in captivity - partly as a consequence of the restricted environment. It must be taken into account that the average polar bear enclosure in captivity is 1 million times smaller than the natural range of a polar bear in the wild.


Born Free believes that facilities such as the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the Highland Wildlife Park should focus on genuine rescues of polar bears from substandard zoos across Europe, and ensure that they do not breed from the bears to avoid adding to the numbers in captivity with no prospect of release to the wild.

Find out more about captivity issues here >

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

Share | |