The ‘Saddest Polar Bear In The World’ Just Got Some Awesome News

You wouldn’t want to face a polar bear in the wild. While they make the most adorable cubs, fully-grown bears are powerful creatures that can do  some serious damage to an adult in just a matter of seconds. Still, humans manage to be their number one enemy.

Not only do we harm wild polar bears through hunting, fishing, and climate change, but we’ve been known to lock some up for the sake of our entertainment. One polar bear’s mistreatment broke hearts all around the world. But, his luck — along with a number of other animals sharing his position — may be changing…

Back in 2016, a mall opened in Guangzhou, China, called the Grandview Shopping Mall. It was supposed to be the city’s new pride and joy, boosting the economy through retail and tourism. That wish did not entirely come true.

To make Grandview stand out, it was designed to be much larger than your average shopping mall, and any space that was unoccupied by stores was to be used for entertainment.

While art displays, games, or performances are a wonderful way to amuse the customers, the creators of Grandview had something else in mind: aquariums – large in the eyes of onlookers, but small for the animals trapped inside.

See, these were not large tanks filled with small fish and crabs. The captive animals were all separated, and most of them lived entirely alone. Behind the glass walls dwelled beluga whales, walruses, wolves, and one very unhappy bear… 

Meet the world’s saddest polar bear, Pizza, who was living in the mall and serving as entertainment for passing shoppers. There, he quickly grew anxious, scared, and lonely, but nobody seemed to care.

Not only are polar bears supposed to live in packs, but they’re meant to roam much further than the estimated 52ft² they get per Grandview enclosure. There was hardly any space to run around or swim at all.

“One bear paced back and forth, displaying behavior that experts say reflects stress and possible psychological problems,” The Washington Post described. “Wolves lay listlessly while belugas swam back and forth in confined spaces.”

To make matters worse, the mall was open from 10 am until 10:30 pm almost every single day, and there was nowhere for these creatures to hide from the thousands of prying eyes that came to see them. 

People banged on the glass, used flash photography, and crowded around the restless animals. The sad part was, that was the only thing that kept the caged tenants occupied. There were no toys or games – only emptiness and chaos.

Pizza the bear was the mall’s favorite furry attraction, which caused him a lot of suffering. But this eventually worked to his advantage. You see, people began posting pictures of him online — and internet outrage ensued.

Angry animal lovers were calling the enclosures a “prison” and urged for Pizza to be removed from the mall. Animal rights group Animals Asia even launched a petition to close all the aquariums in the mall and got 270,000 signatures.

“Taking animals from their natural environments is never right, but when they’re re-homed in conditions like these, it’s the worst situation,” said a group spokesman. “We all need to continue to publicly object to such facilities.”

The problem was that laws around animal rights are fairly lax in China. They must be fed and get medical treatment if needed, but the happiness of these creatures is not required for their captivity to be legal.

Many non-profit organizations offered to take Pizza in and give him a better life, including a large wildlife park in England, but the owners of Grandview weren’t ready to part with their most prized asset.

Still, Grandview did seem to bend under all the social pressure. Only a few months later, they released a statement saying Pizza would be relocated so they could expand his enclosure.

Luckily, Pizza’s temporary living quarters would be in his birthplace: Tianjin Haichang Polar Ocean World in northern China. They would provide him with a larger enclosure, toys, and some very special company…

 As it so happened, Pizza’s mom was still living at the Ocean World and would once again be sharing an enclosure with her son! The two were ecstatic to see each other after all this time. They didn’t have to be alone anymore.

Even though Pizza was set to return to Grandview in 2017, he has remained in Tianjin to this day. Every day, he bonded with his mama bear, played with cones and buckets, and caught fish tossed by his caretakers.

“To see this bear playing and not focused on pattern behavior, that made me really happy,” said a program officer from National Geographic. “He looks a million times better.”

It may not be the best place in the world for any bear, but at least in Tianjin, Pizza no longer suffered for selfies. But let’s not forget the other animals who still live in the Grandview Mall – with enough petitions, hopefully, they too will soon see happier days!

Of course, it’s not only captive polar bears who need a helping paw sometimes. Mankind has indirectly caused a great amount of other trouble: hunting, melting ice caps, fishing, and boating often end up hurting Arctic wildlife.

In the summer of 2015, an Inuit tour guide named Rolan Warrior brought tourists to the Beaufort Sea barrier island just outside his home city of Kaktovik, Alaska. There, the travelers hoped to see something incredible: polar bears.

Wild Alaska Travel

More specifically, the southern visitors wanted to see a wild polar bear up close and personal. For anyone who didn’t spend their time in the Arctic Circle, that would be a completely foreign sight.

Arctic Kingdom

The best—or worst—part about the day trips led by Inuits was that you never knew what was going to happen. In that line of work, danger was never far. No one learned that better than Rolan’s tour group, who saw something unforgettable…

Kaktovik Tours / YouTube

Out in the freezing Arctic waters, village guests got what they wished for: a large male polar bear—called a nanuq by the local Inuit tribe—was lingering in the water not far from shore. But something was wrong…

National Geographic

Tourists fell into complete shock when they saw that the polar had become entangled in a fishing net meant for catching beluga whales and was struggling to keep from drowning! They had to help the poor animal. But how could they?

Flora Rexford, a Kaktovik resident and teacher, described what happened next to The Anchorage Daily News: “My dad and mom got into their boat,” she began. She described how, along with the man who owned the net, her parents raced towards the bear.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

But trying to subdue a powerful bear frightened for his life sounded like the first step towards an early grave. The trio knew better—so they waited for the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lend a hand.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

From a helicopter circling above, the biologists tranquilized the struggling polar bear with a dart. Only then could Flora’s parents and the net’s owner get close enough to the bear to make a rescue.

Packer Expeditions

While the tranquilizers took effect, the trio in the boat did their best to keep the polar bear from sinking under the surface of the frigid waters. Then, carefully navigating the icy waters, the rescuers tried moving the big guy to shore—but that was tough!

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

Polar bears are extremely heavy animals – an adult male can weigh a minimum of 1,200 pounds! This guy certainly wasn’t helping the Inuits carry much of his dead weight, either, what with being knocked out.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

It was especially challenging for this group of hopeful rescuers because they had to keep the polar bear’s head above water the entire time—a tough task on its own, since the bear was clearly exhausted.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

After a long struggle, the trio finally hauled the polar bear on to the shore. Dazed and exhausted, he sprawled out on the rocky beach. Luckily, some local biologists showed up and were ready to examine the bear. How badly was he hurt?

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

Right away, they removed the net from the still-sedated polar bear; then, they checked him for any injuries, both internal and external. To their relief, he had avoided suffering anything serious.

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

With the net removed and the bear injury-free, the Inuits and biologists allowed the animal to return to the wilderness. “I guess it ended up swimming out toward the sea,” Flora said after the grateful animal was freed.

On the surface, this looked like a simple rescue. Those who lived among polar bears and interacted with them regularly protected them, too. So why was this any different? Well, the senior director of conservation of Polar Bears International, Geoff York, offered some insight…

The Uproar

“From rescue to conflict reduction efforts, Northern communities play an important role in the conservation of polar bears,” Geoff said. “They are on the ground 24/7 and have important experience and perspectives passed down from generations untold.” But that wasn’t all…

Geoff continued: “It’s great to see local people and scientists come together to solve a clear problem. In this time of unprecedented change, we need more collaboration across the Arctic and across groups.” In other words?

USGS

While this rescue may have affected only one polar bear, the Inuits acted in a way that was crucial to preserving the species as a whole. At the time of the rescue, prospects for polar bears as a species looked quite grim…

Wild Alaska Travel

From 2001 to 2010, the polar bear population in southern Beaufort Sea — the water just north of Alaska — declined from 1,500 to 900. That’s a whopping 40 percent! So that one bear’s safe rescue made quite an impact on the species!

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