Nearly 10 years after she was liberated from the sweltering hell of a Mexican circus, Alaska, the bear who was the impetus for the eventual seizure of all seven bears held captive by the Suarez Bros. Circus, has died at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Estimated to be in her late 20s—old age for a polar bear—Alaska was euthanized because of kidney failure.
It almost sounds like an Onion spoof—polar bears in a Mexican circus. But it was no joke. The Suarez Bros. Circus—which, coincidentally, is in the news this week after a handler was mauled to death by a tiger—was hauling the dejected bears around Mexico and the Caribbean in cramped cages without access to water for swimming, something that polar bears desperately crave. A whistleblower leaked videotape showing the overheated bears pacing in small cages and panting constantly. The bears where struck and whipped in order to force them to perform ridiculous tricks.
PETA dug into the bears’ backgrounds and uncovered evidence indicating that Alaska may not have been born at Zoo Atlanta, as the circus had claimed on her import application. After we reported our suspicions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the service used DNA testing to prove conclusively that Alaska’s identity had been “stolen,” a violation of federal law. The FWS fined the circus $120,000 and sent Alaska to the Maryland Zoo, where she lived with fellow polar bears Magnet and Anoki.
When Alaska first arrived at the zoo, she was sick, lethargic, filthy, and, her caretakers soon learned, deaf. Free at last from the cramped cage, she explored her surroundings and swam in a pool for the first time in years. Rancid scraps were replaced with wholesome, healthy food. There were no more frightening and confusing tricks. Alaska’s battered body and broken spirit began to heal.
Alaska is an inspiring example of how animals can recover from years of deprivation if given the opportunity. Her courage and dignity should stand as testament to all the animals whose health and sanity are sacrificed in the name of “entertainment” in circuses. May she rest in peace.