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Mixed exhibits of polar bears and arctic foxes

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Jurek7, 24 Dec 2021.

  1. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    I was interested in exhibits mixing polar bears with other species. Arctic foxes were mixed with polar bears twice to my knowledge.

    First was Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo in 1966. 2,3 young polar bears and 8 arctic foxes were kept in an enclosure 29 m long and 9-12 m wide. The foxes had piles of rocks to hide in. The bears initially chased them, but later got accustomed. The exhibit was considered a success, although one fox slept in the open and was grabbed and killed by the bear.

    Reading the attached paper, the exhibit was tiny (less than minimum for one bear by the current EAZA standards) and overcrowded, and all these animals must have constantly come within reach of each other. I tried to find photos, but found none. The photos from 2010 below would match this exhibit if it was remodelled by replacing the dry moat with a water moat. This enclosure is now demolished. Details:
    mixed exhibit for Polar bears and Arctic foxes Thalarctos maritimus and Alopex lagopus at Omaha Zoo - [PDF Document]
    Henry Doorly Zoo 2010 - Second part of Polar Bear exhibit in Bear Canyon - ZooChat
    Henry Doorly Zoo 2010 - First part of Polar Bear exhibit in Bear Canyon - ZooChat
    https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-1090.1968.tb00424.x

    Anybody from Omaha knows how long arctic foxes were held with the bears, why it was discontinued, and whether the photos are indeed of this enclosure?

    The second attempt was in Zoo am Meer, Bremenhaven, Germany ca 2004. I have only limited information about it. Apparently, arctic foxes had a separate exhibit which included a long flat-topped wall or narrow platform above polar bear exhibit. The arctic foxes apparently repeatedly jumped to the bear exhibit and ran madly around, and were quickly confined to an enclosure separated from the polar bears by a glass window. I am not certain about details.

    Anybody from Germany knows details?
    I wonder whether other zoos also tried this mix? If an old exhibit so small and overcrowded as in Omaha mostly worked, then in much larger modern exhibits polar bears and arctic foxes should get on well.
     
    Last edited: 25 Dec 2021
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  2. biggest_dreamer

    biggest_dreamer Well-Known Member

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    I thought I had read that Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC kept them together at some point between the 70s and 90s, but right now all I can find to support this is a single picture which appears to show a moat splitting the exhibit in two.

    polar bear & arctic fox exhibit at Riverbanks Zoo (1996 film)

    This exhibit has since been destroyed, but the zoo still uses a neighboring grotto with a similar-style moat separating lions and Diana monkeys, so I assume that's what it is.
     
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  3. Aardwolf

    Aardwolf Well-Known Member

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    As you mentioned, there was a case in which a fox slept in and was killed at Omaha - I think the definition of what was considered "a success" changed over the years. Yes, it would have made for a visually appealing exhibit. Yes, most of the foxes were (most of the time) able to avoid polar bears. But even excluding predation, it really didn't seem to work from an animal welfare perspective. The risk to the foxes would have been too great, and even if they were able to avoid injury, there is the constant stress from exposure to the bears, having to keep an eye on the bears, inability to truly be at ease - that it just seems like an unjustifiable compromise of welfare for the foxes.
     
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  4. UngulateNerd92

    UngulateNerd92 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    What's would you think of layered exhibits for Polar bears and Arctic foxes as an alternative?
     
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  5. StoppableSan

    StoppableSan Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Detroit had that, before... they didn't anymore.
     
  6. Aardwolf

    Aardwolf Well-Known Member

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    Honestly... no. To me, it's why bother? What is the benefit? The foxes would have a larger enclosure than they might have otherwise, but would they really get to use much of it? Or would they just be living on the outskirts, dodging the bears? I'm not against all bear mixed species exhibits - I wish more US zoos would do mixed Andean/coati exhibits - but polar bears are a bridge too far for me. Plus, I just really love Arctic foxes - they're one of the most engaging, endearing species I've ever worked with. I couldn't in good conscience say, "Well, there's a decent chance that you're becoming bear enrichment... but it'll make a really cool photo op before you do!"
     
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  7. UngulateNerd92

    UngulateNerd92 Well-Known Member Premium Member 5+ year member

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    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I totally understand and respect that.
     
  8. Antoine

    Antoine Well-Known Member 10+ year member

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    Cerza built (in the past decade) a polar bear complex with two massive enclosures of one hectare each and a artic foxes enclosure along one. From what I remember, the artic foxes could go in the polar bear enclosures but not sure it is still the case.
     
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  9. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Arctic foxes famously follow polar bears for long time periods in the wild, feeding on prey leftovers and bear faeces. So they should be familiar with avoiding the bears.

    A problem may be that arctic foxes found in zoos are probably offspring of foxes bred for many generations in small cages on fur farms, so may be mentally different.

    Foxes are very active animals, which seem to have an innate drive to walk for long distances and would benefit from an exhibit much larger than their body size suggests. In zoo Heidelberg, which mixes brown bears and corsac foxes, bears usually just rest, but foxes run and play all over their large exhibit.
     
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  10. Aardwolf

    Aardwolf Well-Known Member

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    In the wild, the foxes have the entire tundra to get away from bears. A bear might not bother pursuing a fox in the wild because of the unlikelihood of catching one. In a zoo, the odds are much more in the bear's favor. Lions don't predate vultures much, and vultures scavenge off lion kills in the wild. Put those species together in an exhibit (even a completely enclosed one that allows the vultures to be flighted), we know what'll happen.

    Polar bears are also notoriously difficult to enrich, even compared to other bear species. Catching an arctic fox in the enclosure seems like it would be an irresistible challenge for a bored bear.

    I know that other zoos have mixed other bear species with small canids - red fox and American black bear, corsac fox and brown bear, golden jackal and sloth bear - with decent results. Based on results so far with this combination, I can't see justification for it.

    Though you'll never hear me argue against larger exhibit spaces for foxes....
     
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  11. StoppableSan

    StoppableSan Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    What if, instead of a mixed exhibit for arctic foxes and polar bears, it was a set of rotational yards?
     
  12. Antimony96

    Antimony96 Well-Known Member

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    I think quite a few at least mix capybaras with rheas. The Bergen County Zoo's centerpiece is a capybara - rhea - tapir - brocket deer mixed habitat, though the coatis are in a separate enclosure.
     
  13. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member 15+ year member

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    Thanks to @TinoPup and his photos I learned that Zoo sauvage de Saint-Félicien in Canada mixes polar bears with arctic foxes. The zoo comments to Youtube films say the mix exists for 3 years and foxes and bears indeed share the same habitat.

    From Google Maps, the two exhibits are large, but not extremely big by zoo standards:
    2,670m2 / 28,800 ft2 and 2,800 m2 / 30,500 ft2
    But certainly very beautiful, with natural vegetation and artificial pool and groups of rocks. Indeed, a large rectangle of land with native vegetation is the best exhibit for bears!

    ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDvtLm0KBkY
    ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMokXM-uFaw
    Zoo Sauvage 10/22 - Arctic Tundra, polar bear / arctic fox exhibit #1 - ZooChat
    Zoo Sauvage 10/22 - Eastern Asia, map showing the many, many stairs to go to the upper paths - ZooChat