International Polar Bear Day, which falls every year on February 27, raises awareness about the conservation status of polar bears in a warming Arctic. In this guest post, Ice Bear author Michael Engelhard shares this photo essay about the history of polar bears kept in zoos.
In the western hemisphere, polar bears have lived in our midst since the Middle Ages, a result of our fascination with these charismatic carnivores. From their very beginnings as cultural institutions, zoos have tried to balance entertainment and education. Today, with climate change and habitat loss from development threatening the polar bear’s natural habitat, many have added conservation to their mission, with captive breeding programs and scientific research. This gallery offers a brief stroll through zoos past and present, a glimpse at how we have kept and presented the Arctic White Bear.
The menagerie in the Tower of London, one of Europe’s oldest and longest-operating zoos, in an illustration from 1808. Already in 1252, Henry III of England kept a muzzled and chained polar bear there, which was allowed to catch fish and frolic about in the Thames.
Polito’s Royal Menagerie at the Exeter ’Change in London, 1812. A collection of exotic animals owned by Stephen Polito, a touring showman in Georgian England of Italian descent who had come from his own country to find fortune in London and the provinces. The artist Edwin Landseer came here to study and paint polar bears “true to life.” Continue reading