Known as the “world’s saddest polar bear,” Arturo died on Sunday after spending more than 20 years in captivity within a sweltering Argentine zoo responsible for the recent deaths of at least 64 other animals. Refusing to transfer the blatantly suffering polar bear to a colder climate or an animal sanctuary, zoo officials forced Arturo to languish in sun-baked concrete for decades as temperatures reached over 100°F.
Born in the U.S. in 1985, Arturo was transferred to the Mendoza Zoo in Argentina at the age of 8. Despite the fact that his body was designed to survive in Arctic temperatures while often overheating at temperatures above 50°F, Arturo was subjected to live within a concrete enclosure equipped with a pool of water only 20 inches deep.
After his partner Pelusa died of cancer in 2012, Arturo appeared to be suffering from depression and other psychological issues along with heat exhaustion. A disturbing video of Arturo repeatedly pacing back and forth appeared online depicting his increasingly abnormal behavior.
Upon seeing the video, former Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Bill McDonald told CBC News, “This bear is doing what’s called stereotyping or stereotypy movements. It’s basically going insane.”
“You can see he is going crazy. He moves the way polar bears do when they are suffering a lot of stress,” Argentinian professor Fernanda Arentsen, from the Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg, told the Winnipeg Free Press in 2013. “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.”
Although more than 1.2 million people signed a petition at Change.org to improve Arturo’s rapidly deteriorating health by transferring the polar bear to Assiniboine Park Zoo in Canada, Mendoza Zoo Director Gustavo Pronotto claimed Arturo was too old to survive sedation over the 6,000-mile trip. Blind in his right eye with a failing sense of smell, Arturo suffered a loss of appetite and significant weight loss during his final days.
According to a statement from the Mendoza Zoo, Arturo died on Sunday due to a “blood circulation imbalance.” Between December and May, at least 64 captive animals died at the Mendoza Zoo reportedly due to bacteria outbreaks and overcrowding. City officials plan to convert the abusive zoo into a nature reserve after the recent deaths.
“Arturo’s sad situation was first brought to international attention back in 2013, when distressing photographs and reports of his situation were circulated around the world. It is thought that Arturo endured substandard conditions in a completely unsuitable and unnatural climate for over 20 years,” the Born Free Foundation wrote in a statement on Monday.
“While there are considerable threats facing wild polar bear habitat, the Born Free Foundation believes that keeping and breeding more bears in zoos has no genuine role to play in polar bear conservation. 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, particularly in zoos in hot climates. Sadly, polar bears remain commonly kept in zoos in countries such as Mexico and Singapore, and until quite recently, Chile and South Africa.
“Born Free will continue to push for change wherever possible, and ensure that scenes of polar bears sweltering in scorching temperatures in substandard zoos become a thing of the past.”