Zoo getting confiscated polar bear

In Brief

March 07, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A female polar bear confiscated by federal authorities yesterday from a circus in Puerto Rico will be given a new home - in Baltimore.

The bear, named Alaska, was expected to arrive at the Baltimore Zoo this morning after being seized from the Suarez Bros. Circus by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency took the bear after an investigation into improper permitting practices found that the Mexico-based circus had illegal permits when Alaska was brought into Puerto Rico. The circus allegedly submitted fraudulent birth documents to Puerto Rican government officials indicating Alaska was born at Zoo Atlanta - but that zoo had evidence the bear listed on the permits had died in 1994 at a zoo in Germany.

Last night, Alaska was being flown to the United States. Zoo officials said they know little about Alaska's health but hope she will be a suitable companion for their lonely male polar bear, Magnet. "We are very happy to have the opportunity to give this bear a home," said Baltimore Zoo director Roger Birkel, who added that the zoo is in the final design phases of a polar bear habitat exhibit to open in 2003.

Alaska will be quarantined for at least 30 days before making her Baltimore debut.

The investigation into the circus' permits was sparked by a complaint from the Norfolk, Va.-based People for Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA has been seeking the removal of seven polar bears from Suarez Bros., which it says transports polar bears, nomadic Arctic animals, in small cages and forces them to perform in hot, humid regions of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. PETA said it has videotape of Alaska being whipped to perform tricks.

"Alaska has a happy ending," said PETA spokeswoman Lori Kettler, "but now we want to have the same for the other six."

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