Manitoba polar bear's incredible journey ends
Handout Barle the polar bear endured blistering heat in a Puerto Rican zoo before being rescued and sent to Detroit.
Winnipeg Free Press
By: Carol Sanders
July 20, 2012
After travelling from the chilly wilds of Churchill to a steamy cell in a Central American circus to the biggest polar bear exhibit in North America, a Manitoba polar bear has finally died in Detroit this week.
"She did so well when she was taken out of the circus," said the Detroit Zoo's Scott Carter.
Barle the polar bear was rescued from the Suarez Bros. Circus in Puerto Rico in 2002, regained its health, gave birth to a cub and delighted staff and visitors at the Detroit Zoo's Arctic Circle of Life until she was euthanized at age 27 with cancer Wednesday.
"There's been a tremendous outpouring of emotion from the community," said Carter, the zoo's chief life sciences officer.
"She was a favourite of our staff and well known because of her story."
The plight of circus polar bears -- discovered by Free Press photographer Ken Gigliotti on vacation in Mexico in 1996 -- made headlines around the world.
Barle the polar bear endured blistering heat in a Puerto Rican zoo before being rescued and sent to Detroit.
Barle and two other bears had been exported from Churchill to a zoo in Germany. The zoo sold them to a circus touring steamy Central America and Mexico, where the polar bears survived sweltering days caged in sunny, 45 C parking lots. In 2002, six polar bears in Puerto Rico were seized and sent to new homes at zoos in the United States, but one died in transit.
Barle, a small female, survived but looked worse for wear when she arrived at Detroit's then-new $14.9-million Arctic exhibit.
"She came to us in November and she had this kind of sparse coat," Carter said.
Zoo staff didn't know how the polar bear, which had been kept in horrific conditions in Central America, would cope in its new environment, he said.
"She loved going outside in the cold. By her second winter here, she grew a big, full coat."
That came as no surprise. What they weren't expecting was how much she loved the heat.