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Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 07:42 GMT
White Christmas for Australian polar bears
Polar bears are thought to need a varied environment in captivity
The artificial snow will be very similar to the real thing
Four polar bears are looking forward to a white Christmas - at the height of the Australian summer.

Sea World, a zoo and marine park on the coast south of Brisbane, has decided to add snow to the landscape of its polar bear enclosure.

The snow will give the bears new stimuli

Trevor Long, Sea World director of marine sciences
The aim is to "enhance the bears' day-to-day physical and mental activity", according to the zoo's website.

Sea World's four polar bears - Kanook, Ping Ping, Lia and Lutik - already enjoy a variety of environmental features in their enclosure. There are even wind generation fans designed to entertain the bears with a wide range of interesting and stimulating smells.

Variety

Polar bears kept in zoos are believed to need a varied and challenging environment to avoid behavioural problems.

50-70 cubic metres - or 300 wheelie bins - of snow a day
30 tonnes of ice and 4.2 tonnes of dry ice a day
4 semi trailers to transport the ice from Brisbane to the Gold Coast
"The snow environment will give the bears new stimuli," said Trevor Long, director of marine sciences at Sea World.

The zoo expects to need about 50-70 cubic metres of manufactured snow every day to maintain the winter attraction, which will run from Boxing Day (26 December) to 27 January.

The change in environment will not come as a complete surprise to the bears, as trials with the snow were carried out earlier this month.

Polar bear supervisor Kerrie Haynes-Lovell said that the young bears, Lia and Lutik, in particular seemed to revel in the snow, which gave them a totally different stimulus from what they had been offered before.

Sea World has four polar bears
The young bears revelled in the snow during the trial
"To date, the young bears, haven't experienced anything like the texture and feel of snow on this scale and the enrichment benefits to the bears are evidenced in their highly animated behaviour," she said.

Polar bears are uniquely adapted to the extreme cold of their natural habitat in the Arctic. A fat layer of blubber and two layers of fur protect their bodies from heat loss.

But the zoo says that all its bears have had no problem adapting to Australia's tropical climate. The snow is being added for the sake of variety and to provide an interesting contrast to their daily surroundings.

"It's the same with humans - if you are constantly offered choices and faced with new and interesting things you are ultimately going to be a much more enriched and happy person," Ms Haynes-Lovell said.

Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of Sea World

See also:

22 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
22 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Mar 02 | Americas
02 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Oct 00 | Americas
11 May 01 | Americas
15 May 02 | Science/Nature
25 Mar 02 | Europe
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