How the Death of Arturo the Polar Bear Blew up Argentina's Animal Captivity Debate

El que fuera conocido como "el oso más triste del mundo" falleció en Mendoza y dejó consigo indignación y reflexiones que cuestionan el mantenimiento de animales en cautiverio. Captura de pantalla del video compartido en YouTube por el canal "Noticias importantes y no tanto".

Arturo, known as the “saddest bear in the world”, passed away in Mendoza leaving behind indignation and reflections about holding animals in captivity.  Above, a screen shot from the video shared on YouTube channel “Noticias importantes y no tanto.”

After 23 years in captivity the 31-year-old polar bear Arturo died in a zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, and is now forever enshrined as an icon for animal rights activists in the region.

Since the Summer of 2014, there were intense protests at the zoo demanding proper care for Arturo, even if that meant taking him out of the country.

Regardless, a medical board of animal-care specialists determined that it wasn't possible to transport him to Canada, due to his condition.

Oikos Red Ambiental, headquartered in Mendoza, paid tribute to Arturo on their Facebook page, explaining how and why the bear arrived at the zoo in 1993, and noting everything the bear had to put up with over the years:

Arturo llegó a Mendoza como objeto de canje entre instituciones. Nunca conoció la tundra, ni las auroras boreales. No pudo correr, ni nadar, ni cazar, como hacen los osos de su especie. Durante su largo encierro, soportó con dignidad el calor, el Zonda, los barrotes y el cemento de un espacio reducido, soportó la soledad y la inmovilización a la que fue condenado desde su nacimiento.

Arturo arrived in Mendoza as a traded commodity between two institutions. He never knew the tundra, nor the aurora borealis. He couldn't run, swim, or hunt like the other bears of his species. During his long imprisonment, he endured the scorching hot northerly wind, the iron bars, and the cement of a confined space with dignity, along with the solitude and immobilization to which he was a prisoner since birth.

There is still a lot of controversy surrounding Arturo's case, with some irritated at the animal rights campaign that has made the bear famous across South America.

Facebook group Friends of Arturo criticizes how the bear's image was used for what it describes as the political and commercial gain of media and environmentalist groups:

Se preguntaron cuál es el motivo por el que ambientalistas truchos y medios amarillistas niegan las fotos reales en las que se ve a Arturo bien, conectado, jugando, tranquilo y continúan fogoneando con el asunto del “oso más triste del mundo”? Y publicando fotos que no tienen que ver con la situación actual? Que patéticos intereses hay detrás de tal negación y falsedad? Será que se les termina el negocio si la gente lo ve a Arturo cuidado y atendido? Será que el negocio es sembrar odio y bronca en contra del Zoo? Cuánta gente sufre innecesariamente con tales mentiras? Qué repudiable!

Have you wondered why do phoney, poser environmentalists and sensationalist media deny the real photos in which Arturo can be seen connected, playing, relaxed? And why do they continue throwing coals on the fire with this “saddest bear in the world” issue? And publishing photos that don't have anything to do with the current situation? What pathetic gains lie behind such denial and deceit? Could it be that they stop making money if people see Arturo is well cared for? Could it be that their business is to spread hate and provoke problems for the zoo? How many people suffer unnecessarily from such lies? This is loathsome!

The anti-captivity blog Opening Cages, in turn, not only stressed images of Arturo inhabiting a dirty and demolished environment, but also took the opportunity to question the very existence of zoos:

El zoológico de Mendoza se defiende diciendo que murió por su avanzada edad y que se le dio la mejor atención veterinaria, pero ese no es el punto. Claro que iba a morir tarde o temprano, el asunto relevante es cómo vivió. Estas prisiones llamadas zoológicos siguen existiendo porque hay visitantes que aplauden que los animales sean privados de su libertad para exhibirlos ante nuestros ojos egoístas, que sólo piensan pasar un buen rato, tomar un par de fotos y volver a su vida, olvidándose que los animales se quedan para siempre ahí, que su única función fue entretenernos.

The Mendoza zoo defends itself saying that [Arturo] died due to old age and that he was given the best possible veterinary service, but this is not the point. Of course he was going to die, young or old. The relevant point here is how he lived. These prisons they're calling zoos continue to exist because there are visitors who applaud the fact that animals are deprived of their liberty in order to be exhibited before the selfish eyes [of the people] who only think about having a good time, taking a few photos, and then going back to their lives, forgetting that the animals stay there forever and [thinking] that their only purpose was to entertain us.

The author of the blog also added reflections on displaying animals in captivity.

¿Qué puede aprender alguien cuando ve a uno oso polar solo y enjaulado a 40 grados en verano? Que tenemos el poder de someter y transformar las vidas de los animales a nuestro antojo y disfrazar este hecho de educación y conservación. Aprendemos que los animales están para ser observados cuando querramos y como querramos al precio que sea, que generalmente es su salud mental, su vida.

What can one learn when looking at a polar bear alone, caged, in 40 degrees in the Summer? That we have the power to subdue and transform the lives of the animals for our own fancy and disguise it as educational and as an act of conservation. We learn that animals are there to be observed whenever we want to and however we want to, whatever the price may be, and generally [that price] is their mental health, their life.

Beyond the debate over Arturo's life, however, was the sad acknowledgement of his death. Pained tweets rolled in under the tag #OsoArturo (BearArturo) soon after it was announced:

Hi, humans, if an extraterrestrial being ever makes you look at a wall like this. Remember #OsoArturo

#OsoArturo Sorry Arturo. Today you are free dear angel. Your death will not be in vain. We will never stop fighting ☮ for you ❤

— Dana Mena (@dana_leprosa) July 4, 2016

On his website, “Oso Polar Arturo (Polar Bear Arturo and Zoo), Gabriel Flores has made available his book “Prisión perpetua” (Perpetual Prison), which tells the story of the activism that took place between 2012 and 2016 in order to save the polar bear.

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