Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 10:29 UK

Snow makes Mercedes a 'silly' old polar bear

Mercedes was relocated from Edinburgh Zoo to the wildlife park last year

The UK's only polar bear has revelled in deep snow and freezing conditions during her first winter in the Highlands, one of her keepers has said.

Mercedes was moved from Edinburgh Zoo to the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in the Cairngorms last year.

Animal collections manager Douglas Richardson said its estimated age of 29 was old for a polar bear.

He said staff and visitors had seen it rolling around in snow, bouncing on ice and "generally being silly".

The Highlands region experienced one of its longest and harshest winters since the 1960s with heavy snowfalls and prolonged spells of subzero temperatures.

With the deep snow and the cold conditions her activity levels went up
Douglas Richardson
Animal collections manager

Mr Richardson said: "Seeing a 29 to 30-year-old bear running around in the snow, shaking her head with her mouth open like a dog does when playing, bouncing up and down on ice and just generally being silly, you could not interpret it any other way than she was just having fun.

"With the deep snow and the cold conditions her activity levels went up.

"She was very much as one would expect - a polar bear in her element."

Last November, park owners the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said more polar bears would be introduced to the site when Mercedes dies.

Polar bears can live into their early 30s.

RZSS said two would be taken from other zoos in the hope they would reproduce.

'Abnormal behaviour'

But an animal welfare group denied the park's claim that bringing in more bears would contribute to conservation of the species.

Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, said Mercedes' relocation from Edinburgh to a larger enclosure was welcome but RZSS was "way off the mark" with plans to bring in more bears.

He said at the time: "Research has shown that wide-ranging species such as polar bears show high levels of abnormal behaviour and infant mortality in captivity.

"There is simply no evidence that exhibiting polar bears in zoos is an effective means of educating visitors about climate change, let alone convincing people to significantly alter their behaviour to lessen their impact on the environment."

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