Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Friday, 30 October 2009

Agoraphobic bear fears 'allayed'

Mercedes was relocated to the Highlands from Edinburgh Zoo

Concerns a polar bear would suffer agoraphobia after moving from a city zoo to four acres in the Highlands were unfounded, a park chief has said.

Mercedes - the UK's only polar bear - was relocated from Edinburgh Zoo to the Highland Wildlife Park, near Kingussie, earlier this month.

Douglas Richardson, animal collection manager at the park, said she had adapted to her new surroundings.

Staff are now anticipating her reaction to heavy snowfalls this winter.

Mr Richardson said: "There were people who were concerned she would be agoraphobic in such a large area. It was not a concern that I had.

When I saw her first thing this morning she was crashed out on her back
Douglas Richardson
Animal collection manager

"She has adapted as well as we could have anticipated and she is making full use of the area.

"When I saw her first thing this morning she was crashed out on her back, then rolled over and had a bit of a look and a sniff."

Mr Richardson said extensive use of the park's overflow car park was an indication that visitor numbers had been higher during the recent October school break than for the same time last year - with many people drawn to see Mercedes.

Three rare Amur tiger cubs unveiled in the summer have also been a major attraction.

The animal collection manager said he expected another peak in visitor numbers when the park gets its first snowfall.

He said: "I'd imagine a lot of people - and photographers - will want to see what Mercedes does in the snow. It will be really interesting to see how she reacts to it, though snow isn't going to take her by surprise."

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.

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 about 27-years-old. Polar bears can live into their early 30s.

Mercedes is among a number of cold region animals introduced to the collection.

Three rare Amur tiger cubs born at the park in May were given their first public showing in June.

The litter are the offspring of two adults - Yuri and Sasha - transported from Edinburgh Zoo last October.

Japanese snow monkeys also feature, but the deaths of three last year drew criticism from campaigning group Advocates for Animals.

It said the deaths highlighted why it was inappropriate to keep wild animals in captive conditions.

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