It was, at first, not noticeable. Just some kids fooling around aimlessly. The Sunday sky was unseasonably blue and cloudless, and the zoo was packed with moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles, lovers, loners, friends, the curious, the bored… The trees were in full leaf, casting dappled shade on the broad pathways and banks of purple iris. It was a perfect afternoon to amble, and look at baby howler monkeys, or zebras trying to mate, or a polar bear, in his white-painted concrete lair, pacing from one end of his raised enclosure, which was separated from the walk by a concrete moat, to the other, and then back again.
That’s what three young people did, right in front of the wire fence and stone railing, paced with their backs to the polar bear but in unison with him. One two three four five– pause– kick. Turn. One to three four five, kick. No pause when the bear was heading east; a pause only on the western pace.
One two three four five, kick. One two three four five, pause, kick. Over and over, back and forth.
An elderly man stood quietly beside them, and handed out two printed 81/2 x 11 sheets of paper stapled together, to people passing by. Some paused, and read the words on the paper, and looked at the polar bear, and at the three teenagers.
Then there were six young people, in a line. A little girl and her mother joined them. The original three moved to the front, making room for six more ghost pacers. Back and forth, silently, in neat lines.
One two three four five, pause, kick. One to three four five, kick. One two three four five, pause, kick. One two three four five, kick.
This Polar Bear, the paper read.
The polar bear, or ursus maritimus, is a mammal native to the Arctic ice sheets and the vast expanses of water that surround them. Their webbed paws make it so they are especially apt at swimming. Polar bears need to swim not only to satiate their carnivorous diet but to maintain a body mass necessary for survival in one of the coldest regions in the world.
Many well-meaning zoo patrons believe that captivity is the solution to the polar bears’ endangered status. Polar bears need their space and should not be kept in a confined area. Captivity revokes its natural instincts. They will never be able to migrate, hunt at night, or claim territorial rights. Captivity can turn out quite badly for the estimated 1,000 of them pacing on the hard, wet stone floor.
Polar bears are known to swim in excess of forty miles across the open sea. They are unable to do that in a small pool that spans less than forty yards. Polar bears are known as solitary creatures, and prefer to take long walks along ice sheets and snow drifts. They are unable to do that in captivity. They can only pace on the hard concrete floor.
In 1992, Bill Travers, the well-known English animal rights activist, coined the term zoochosis to describe the obsessive, repetitive behavior exhibited by animals held captive in zoos. Specifically, this animal-specific psychosis refers to a range of mental problems that are brought on by the stress of captivity and the inability to express natural behaviors. Symptoms of zoochosis include over grooming, neck arching, head swaying, and pacing.
The treatment of this polar bear is not moral, not ethical, and does not benefit the commonwealth.
There are many more animals that need to be saved. The panda bear. The dolphin. Not every animal can be saved but we need to do our best to give back to the animals their purpose. The purpose of the panda bear is to climb the foggy mountains of China, not a tree in a glass enclosure. The purpose of the dolphin is to swim in the vast expanses of the ocean, not in a small, enclosed tank for tourists in an amusement park. The purpose of the polar bear is to gallop along the frozen tundra, not to pace back and forth on the hard, wet stone floor while suffering in silence.
These animals have no voice. Join us. Be their voice. Call the humane society, call your representative, and visit our website. Free5Steps.Wordpress.com.
There were twenty people now, pacing silently with the polar bear, and several hundred gathered around. Spontaneously, ten more people joined the lines, then ten more. Zoo officials stood nearby, talking into cell phones.
More people joined, and then the TV crew turned up. That encouraged more to join the silent protest. A hundred people paced.
One two three four five, pause, kick. One two three four five, kick. Again, and again.
People in the crowd held up their phones, videos were posted to the Internet, to Facebook, to YouTube, to Twitter. Two hundred people now, in silent unison, in sync with a silent pacing, polar bear.
One two three four five, pause, kick.
Once two three four five, kick.
- Polar bear handout adapted from an article in TheHumanist.com