WILDLIFE charities have hit out at zoo bosses plans to begin breeding polar bears at the Highland Wildlife Park.
Onekind Scotland and the Born Free Foundation have labelled the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) conservation claims as “spurious” and said that the society’s desire to display polar bear cubs to visitors “outweighed common sense.”
Preparations have begun to allow male polar bear Arktos to meet female polar bear Victoria for the first time at the park near Kingussie, within the Cairngorms National Park. Victoria is kept in a separate enclosure a mile away.
A large transportation crate was manoeuvred into position in the male polar bear enclosure on Friday last week and eight-year-old Arktos will be habituated to it before being encouraged to begin his courtship with Victoria mid-March.
However, claims captive breeding has a role to play in polar bear conservation were blasted by campaigners.
Harry Huyton, director of OneKind Scotland, said: “Polar bears fare particularly poorly in captivity. In the wild they roam enormous areas of the Arctic, with natural ranges on average larger than the whole of Scotland.”
Chris Draper, for the Born Free Foundation, added: “The public are becoming wise to zoos’ spurious claims they have a genuine role to play in conservation.
“We had hoped that the RZSS had listened to public opinion when they finally moved Mercedes from Edinburgh Zoo to Highland Wildlife Park in 2009, and that this move signalled the beginning of the end for the keeping of polar bears in captivity in the UK.
“Sadly, it seems that the desire to have polar bear cubs on display to visitors will outweigh common sense.”
The mean home range size of female polar bears is 125,100sq km – Scotland is 78,789sq km.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at Highland Wildlife Park, said: “Polar bear conservation is definitely not simple or easy, but we have an important responsibility.
“As a conservation body with extensive bear husbandry experience, we truly believe we cannot afford to shy away from the task in hand.
He added: “In an ideal world, conservation would happen in the wild, but unfortunately this is not the scenario we are dealing with.”