If we don’t want to go to hell in a flaming plastic bag, we need to protect the planet.
Crucial to this is the conservation of animals, particularly those at risk of extinction, whether it be through poaching or from habitats being destroyed.
To that end: zoos get a mixed critical response: some believe them to be a great resource for educating people of the real-life risks animals face, as well as protecting the animals themselves, encouraging them to breed and regenerate numbers.
However, as this article from KQED points out, “not all zoos are created equal.” Sure, there are some fantastic zoos around the world that pump serious money into the safe conservation and protection of animals, but others are run on a budget and don’t give the animals the environment they need to thrive.
An argument that will likely go on for years to come.
What we’re sure we can all be on a similar page about, however, is a hotel using polar bears to entertain guests. As CNN Travel reports, the chillingly named “Polar Bear Hotel” – “part of the Harbin Polarland theme park in Heilongjiang’s capital and largest city, Harbin” – offering guests “round-the-clock polar bear viewing from all 21 guest rooms” is extraordinary, and not in a good way.
According to CNN Travel, the hotel proudly claims, “Whether you’re eating, playing or sleeping, polar bears will keep you company.”
Obviously, a hotel in China isn’t the natural home for a polar bear, and with Harbin sitting 1,440 miles south of the Arctic Circle – its native home – the bears on show certainly won’t be able to perform the regular activities, such as hunting, that they were built to do.
CNN adds, “Yang Liu, a spokeswoman for Harbin Polarland, told Reuters that the indoor area is only part of the bears’ total enclosure, and that they are let outdoors when temperature and air quality permit.”
To be fair to the hotel, the average annual temperature in Harbin a rather chilly 3.6-degrees Celsius – although admittedly a fair way off the average winter temperatures of -30 to -35-degrees Celsius of the Arctic Circle.
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But close-to-cold temperatures are the only thing the hotel appears to be offering its polar bear residents, with photographs showing the attempt at recreating icy and snowy conditions, is “actually a white floor and walls painted with snow and ice patterns.”
Speaking to Global Times, in response to claims the hotel doesn’t offer the bears the right living conditions, a spokesperson said it “may turn off the lights at night, and they have man-made dens to live in.” Comments were reportedly vague when questioned about whether the conditions would “affect the bears’ lives.”
Just in the same way zoos attract visitors so that they can view animals that they would otherwise be unable to see up close and personal, the Polar Bear Hotel is “fully booked through a trial period.” It has not been reported how long the trial period will last, or what will happen to the hotel once it has finished.
Conservationists have been quick to criticise the hotel, with Jason Baker, senior Vice President of PETA, telling Reuters, “Polar bears belong in the Arctic, not in zoos or glass boxes in aquariums, and certainly not in hotels.”
“Polar bears are active for up to 18 hours a day in nature, roaming home ranges that can span thousands of miles, where they enjoy a real life.”
Zheng Yu, an expert from World Animal Protection, told Global Times, “By using polar bears as a commercial gimmick, hotels are not only causing harm and suffering to the animals, but also increasing the risk of personal injury to tourists. It is also seriously misleading the public about the scientific knowledge of wildlife protection.”
Some Chinese social media users have also been critical of the hotel. As The South China Morning Post reported, one commenter wrote: “Looking at a polar bear slowly having a mental breakdown up close? Such a small place, with so much lighting and so many windows. You should first try putting humans in.”
Harbin Polarland, of which this hotel is a part of and which calls itself “the world’s first polar performing arts amusement park”, opened in 2005 and has other polar-themed attractions such as “Antarctic Penguin Island”, a Beluga whale show, sea lions and sharks.