A new book follows one polar bear's recovery after cruel captivity

Jul 21, 2014

In early April 2005, Bärle brought her new cub, Talini, outside into the tundra enclosure for the first time. For the next few weeks, Talini stuck by her mother’s side as if she were tethered.
In early April 2005, Bärle brought her new cub, Talini, outside into the tundra enclosure for the first time. For the next few weeks, Talini stuck by her mother’s side as if she were tethered.
Credit Courtesy of Tom Roy

They've been on the earth for five million years. From their fur to their body fat, they've evolved to thrive in extremely cold temperatures. So the cruelty of removing a polar bear from its Arctic home and forcing it to live in a filthy Caribbean circus, in temperatures that soar over 100 degrees, is indescribable.

Else Poulson is an animal behaviorist, and she's a guest on today's Stateside program. She's also the president and co-founder of The Bear Care Group. Poulson was part of a Detroit Zoo team that helped a polar bear named Barle after she was rescued from a Caribbean circus called the Mexican Suarez Brothers Circus. Poulson wrote a book about the experience called "Barle's Story: One Polar Bear's Amazing Recovery from Life as a Circus Act."

Poulson said that Barle was the most abused bear she had seen at that time. Polar bears are built to reserve body heat, and can overheat in freezing temperatures by moving too quickly. She said putting an animal like that in an area with high temperatures is inhumane.

The bears at this circus could not interrelate other than in the circus area; they lived in too small cages; and they were afraid of their alpha trainers to the point that to relieve stress, they would attack other bears in the circus ring instead of the trainer. Poulson said this happened a lot with Barle.

Poulson said that Barle came to the Detroit Zoo because the zoo has a history of rescue and recovery work for animals, and there was one spot open in the Arctic Ring of Life that was just built.

Poulson worked closely with Barle in her recovery. Barle came into the zoo in 2002, and two years later she became a mother.

“When we focus on the animals' agenda, the animals thrive and we become better people," Poulson said on Stateside. "There is a byproduct that we way, we become better for the work that we did."

*Listen to the full interview above.

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