Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 11:53 UK

Polar bear unveiled at new home


Mercedes the polar bear explores her new habitat

The UK's only polar bear has been given a public unveiling at her new home in the Highlands.

Mercedes was relocated from Edinburgh Zoo to the Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie, on Monday.

Her new enclosure extends over four acres of land regarded as more typical of the natural habitat of polar bears.

A public appeal helped to raise £75,000 needed to fund her transfer and the Army assisted in building the bear's home and a nearby visitors' car park.

David Windmill, chief executive of the zoo and park's owner, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said watching Mercedes leave Edinburgh had been a poignant experience.

Staff at Edinburgh Zoo spent several months training Mercedes to walk in and out of a crate that was used to transport her north
On Monday, the crate was lifted onto a trailer for the road trip
The bear arrived at the park about three hours later

He added: "We have been gradually moving animals that are better suited to colder climates from Edinburgh Zoo up to the Highland Wildlife Park and Mercedes is the latest of these moves.

"The animal collections at both parks will continue to evolve and visitors can expect to see new species introduced in the coming months."

Douglas Richardson, animal collection manager at the wildlife park, said her transfer went smoothly.

He said: "When she arrived here, she walked out of her crate and immediately began investigating her indoor dens and holding pen.

"She has settled in very well and we're looking forward to seeing her explore her outdoor enclosure which, at around four acres, is one of the largest polar bear enclosures in the world."

New surroundings

Mercedes was rescued from her native Canada and brought to Scotland after she was scheduled to be shot because she had begun roaming into a nearby town in search of food.

It is thought she is 27-years-old. Polar bears can live into their early 30s.

A crate used for moving rhino was modified to transport the bear by road and was allowed time to settle into her new surroundings before the public unveiling.

Her arrival is expected to further boost visitor numbers at the park.

The public unveiling of three rare Amur tiger cubs in June was followed by record-breaking entries with 80,000 visits within weeks.

Polar bears have shrunk over the last century, according to research recently published in the Journal of Zoology. Physical "stress" caused by pollutants in the bears' bodies, and the increased effort needed to find food, was suggested as limiters to the animals' growth
Polar bears are the largest living land carnivores
They can eat a diet pretty much entirely composed of seal blubber without getting heart disease, as seal fat is naturally polyunsaturated

In 2008, numbers of visitors for the year reached 65,000.

Sappers helped to prepare the wildlife park for the bear's arrival.

The soldiers from 51 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers built a road and car park for the enclosure.

They also constructed a viewing platform and bridge at the park's tiger enclosure.

Dubbed Caledonian Thor, the exercise trained the sappers in military aid and civil community tasks.

Previously, Territorial Army soldiers of 75 Engineer Regiment worked on the polar bear enclosure.

Mercedes' move north has also brought the animal closer to where the only remains of a polar bear that was resident in Britain thousands of years ago were found.

It was thought the bear was washed into caves at Inchnadamph in Sutherland 18,000 years ago.

The bear's skull was found in 1927 and is held in the collections of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

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