It is with heavy hearts that we share the sad news that last night Friday 23nd of February, just days before a massive multi-year effort was about to be finalized, the Parque Zoologico Benito Juarez (Morelia Zoo) and the Governor of Michoacán, Silvano Aureoles, abruptly breached the legal agreement with Zoocheck and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park to relocate Yupik, the Morelia Zoo’s solitary polar bear, to the United Kingdom.
Yupik has been at the Morelia Zoo for more than 25 years, confined in a grossly inadequate, outdated enclosure and locked away in a tiny off-exhibit area for the majority of each day. For years, Yupik has also been suffering from deteriorating health and serious dental issues.
When Zoocheck’s world renowned team of bear veterinarians (see veterinarian letter links below) and specialist Mexican veterinarians conducted a full medical examination of Yupik in March 2017, they discovered that she had been left for years with painful broken teeth and exposed nerves, a result of abnormal stereotyped bar biting behavior. Her muscle mass was poor due to lack of exercise and she had lost her natural layer of blubber due to her unnatural diet and the extreme heat she has been forced to live in.
Zoocheck’s expert team conducted surgery to address Yupik’s dental issues, finally freeing her from the immense suffering and pain her broken teeth had caused. If not for Zoocheck’s intervention, she would still be suffering today as the zoo had no intention of correcting the problem. However, her other medical issues will persist if Yupik is left in Mexico.
The Morelia Zoo’s veterinarians had also misdiagnosed Yupik with a heart condition that she did not have, which the zoo used to bolster their claim that it would be dangerous to move her. This false diagnosis was dismissed by the veterinary cardiologist that Zoocheck provided who examined Yupik’s heart with specialized cardiology equipment, finding no evidence of any heart disease.
Yupik has been suffering for many years and her only hope for a substantially improved life was relocation to a more appropriate and professional facility elsewhere. The Morelia Zoo and Governor are now squandering an opportunity to improve Yupik’s life, for no apparent reason. Yupik is the only Arctic animal in the Morelia Zoo and she will not be replaced once she dies. The legal agreement included a statement wherein the zoo committed to focusing on native species animals.
Operating in good faith, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park spent $400,000 thousand dollars (aprox. over 7 million pesos) preparing for Yupik’s arrival, her new habitat was set to be completed next week. Yorkshire is an accredited member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Their award-winning facility with its expanded space, natural grassy terrain and a natural deep lake, and the opportunity for Yupik to interact with other polar bears, would have made her life immeasurably better. Yorkshire is a collaborator in the polar bear research non-profit Polar Bears International and the Species Survival Comission from IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), with whom Yorkshire has developed critical research initiatives to conserve polar bears and study their adaptation to threats from climate change.
The research project that was submitted to SEMARNAT (Mexico’s Environment Ministry) in order to comply with the Mexican wildlife regulations was authored by researchers from the University of Lincoln and the University of Edinburgh, authors of hundreds of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and conference lectures. The research project as well as the assesment of the adaptation and acclimatisation of Yupik into her new home and more appropriate climate at Yorkshire Wildlife Park would have provided much needed data that could have been used to increase knowledge about the behavior and conservation of polar bears and their adaptation to climate change. This research was supported and encouraged by the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Polar Bear SSP, the BIAZA, researchers at the Institute for Animal Welfare and Dr. Ian Sterling, one of the world’s most renowned polar bear researchers with 40 years of experience studying polar bears. Dr. Stirling said:
“I can say it is clear, from the delineation of the objectives of the overall project, that moving this bear from Mexico to the UK will provide the potential for some significant research on several aspects of polar bear ecology to be undertaken. The studies identified have the potential to contribute positively to the conservation of polar bears in the longer term. It is equally clear that there will be no scientific or conservation benefits to be gained by retaining this bear in Mexico, in conditions which may often be detrimental to her health.”
In 25 years, the Morelia Zoo has not conducted any scientific studies or produced any scientific publications that will benefit the conservation of polar bears, nor has any other Zoo in Mexico that has housed polar bears (now deceased) ever wanted to do a research project. And now, given this great opportunity for an international collaboration with reknowned scientists, the Morelia Zoo decided to dismiss it.
Zoocheck spent in excess of $50,000 and a great deal of time during the past year to facilitate Yupik’s move to her new home where she could enjoy whatever time she had left. Arranging medical assessments, sending a polar bear crate to Morelia, facilitating her training for transport, making flight and other travel arrangements, applying for permits, and all of the other aspects inherent in a complex move of this kind were handled by Zoocheck. Yupik’s relocation was literally just days away, until the Morelia Zoo and the Governor backed out of the agreement last night and sabotaged Yupik’s future.
Mexican celebrity, Eugenio Derbez stepped up to help Yupik by urging Mexican authorities to approve and expedite her export when it seemed things were moving too slowly. For doing that, he has been attacked viciously by members of the Mexican zoo community. Mr. Derbez is a hero for speaking out on behalf of Yupik and for trying to give her a better life.
Yupik was sent to the Morelia Zoo in 1992 on permanent loan under a Letter of Authorization from the United States. The authorization was contingent on the Morelia Zoo meeting certain conditions, including providing care that meets or exceeds US standards for polar bears. The Morelia Zoo has not satisfied these standards, so now we are calling on the United States to exercise their authority to recall Yupik so she can be transferred to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park. She should not be left to suffer the remainder of her life in the substandard conditions of Morelia Zoo. Yupik’s last hope is for her home country to take action to give her the quality of live she deserves, so she can receive professional care, improved conditions and a better life.
Yupik is the most famous animal at the Morelia Zoo but it is important to remember that many other animals also endure poor conditions. We sincerely hope the people of Mexico will stand up for Yupik and the other animals at the zoo and demand that their conditions be dramatically improved or that they be sent elsewhere. We will continue to do everything possible to support that goal.
Zoocheck is grateful to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park for opening up their hearts, their facility and for committing the funds necessary to give Yupik a better life. They are an example that other zoos should follow.
Thank you to Eugenio Derbez for his thoughtfulness, generosity and willingness to get involved. He is a true Mexican hero for animals and his efforts should be applauded, not attacked.
Our sincere thanks also go to the various veterinary professionals, trainers and other experts who volunteered their services. They have improved Yupik’s life, alleviated some of her pain and gave her hope.
And of course, Zoocheck would like to thank the thousands of concerned activists and citizens of Mexico, Canada and elsewhere around the world who also spoke out on behalf of Yupik. If she could understand, we have no doubt she would be grateful.
We urge everyone to contact US Fish and Wildlife, the legal “owner” of the bear asking them to take immediate action to repatriate Yupik so she can go to Yorkshire. Contact US Fish and Wildlife at https://www.fws.gov/duspit/contactus.htm
Also please email the Governor of Michoacan and urge him to allow Yupik’s transfer to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park: firstname.lastname@example.org