Give Yupi a Happier Life

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Yupi is a female polar bear who was brought to Morelia Zoo in Mexico in 1992 at just a few months old. She came from the wilds of Alaska as an orphaned cub after her mother was killed.

When Yupi arrived at Morelia Zoo, she was placed in a former grizzly bear pen. She still lives in this same enclosure today, which is very small and barren, the surface is made entirely of concrete with no soft surfaces to walk on or lie in. Additionally, Yupi is held in a small holding pen for approx. 17 hours every day, this pen is tiny with no natural daylight. Yupi’s daily regime is routine and predictable, with little to no environmental enrichment or stimulation. Polar bears require large spaces and a complex natural terrain, giving them choice and control over their daily lives.

Morelia Zoo is located in the central part of Mexico, which means that Yupi is exposed to a tropical climate, with temperatures remaining high throughout the year, dramatically different to the cold climate of Alasaka. Polar bears are not physically adapted to live in hot climates. Under their thick fur their skin is black, facilitating the retention of heat from the sun; therefore polar bears can easily become overheated, particularly in alien, hot climates.

The exhibit is approximately 110 square metres, and the concrete floor is flat, smooth and featureless. The exhibit includes two wooden stumps, embedded in concrete and a single dead tree, encased in gunite (spray-on concrete), with electric wires above it. The pool is fresh water and unrefrigerated. There are no objects or furnishings in the enclosure for Yupi to manipulate or use. There are no structures in the exhibit to provide shade, other than the side walls, and an alcove at the back of the exhibit that leads to the holding area.
The holding area (off-exhibit) includes two separate cages, each approximately 15 square metres in size. The floor in the holding area is concrete and no bedding is provided for Yupi. There is no natural light in the holding area, nor is it air-conditioned or well ventilated.
Yupi is only in her exhibit when the zoo is open, and spends the majority of her time, from about 5pm each day until 9am the next morning, in the holding area. She is fed a commercially prepared diet, supplemented with chicken and fish.
On several different visits to the zoo, Zoocheck has seen Yupi engaged in two different behaviours that are of concern. For much of the time she exhibits periods of inactivity, such as lying prone with all four legs extended. She has also been observed swimming in front of the viewing glass in a repeated pattern, a stereotypical behaviour that indicates stress or frustration.
Yupi's captivity demonstrates many of the serious problems with keeping polar bears in zoos. These include:
  • Antiquated, Inappropriate Exhibit Design. Yupi's exhibit, with its high walls and concrete flooring, was constructed for security and ease of maintenance, but in no way does it simulate a natural habitat for a polar bear.
  • Lack of Space. Polar bears are among the widest ranging terrestrial mammals on earth; a typical polar bear's enclosure has been estimated to be one-millionth of a polar bear's minimum home-range. Polar bears should be provided with expansive, naturalistic paddocks that allow them plenty of room to roam.
  • Inappropriate Hard Substrates. Yupi's entire enclosure is comprised of hard concrete floor surfaces. Not only are these surfaces uncomfortable to stand, sit and lie on, but they provide no opportunity for natural behaviours such as digging and foraging.
    Inadequate Shelter and Privacy. Although privacy is not a major problem for Yupi, as visitor observation is restricted to the underwater viewing station, her exhibit lacks adequate shade from the sun. Polar bears are adapted to keep warm in frigid temperatures; even in the shade,
    the warm temperature and high humidity of Mexico is a problem for Yupi.
  • Lack of Structural Features, Furnishings and Enrichment. Polar bears are complex, intelligent animals that require a great deal of stimulation, yet Yupi's exhibit is barren, and does nothing to encourage natural movements or species-specific behaviour. Yupi has nothing to push, pull, dig, tear apart, climb or manipulate. Nor is there any visual or olfactory stimulation available.
  • Inappropriate Environmental Conditions. The climate in Mexico is completely unlike that found in the Arctic regions, and keeping cool is a major challenge for Yupi. As already mentioned, polar bears are adapted to keep warm in frigid conditions, and they overheat easily. Even Yupi's pool, which is not refrigerated, may not provide adequate relief.
  • Abnormal Behaviour. Yupi has been observed sitting or lying prone for relatively long periods of time, and also swimming in a repetitive fashion. It is highly likely that the lack of space and the barren conditions of captivity have contributed to Yupi's abnormal behaviours, caused by boredom, frustration and deprivation.
  • Inappropriate Lock-in Practices. While Yupi's main exhibit is grossly substandard, the holding area where she spends most of her time is much worse.
Morelia Zoo mexico