Wildlife park run by Jimmy Doherty prepares to transport brown bear
Wildlife park run by celebrity farmer Jimmy Doherty is preparing to transport brown bear a thousand miles to its Suffolk reserve – just weeks after polar bear cub died making the same journey
- Jimmy Doherty’s wildlife park will take a brown bear from Sweden to Ipswich
- It comes just weeks afgter a polar bear cub died making the same journey
A wildlife park run by celebrity farmer Jimmy Doherty is preparing to transport a brown bear a thousand miles to its Suffolk reserve – just weeks after a polar bear cub died making the same journey.
Two-year-old polar bear Miki set off with her mother, Ewa, from the Orsa Predator Park in Sweden to Jimmy’s Farm and Wildlife Park in Ipswich earlier this year only to die during transit – after that park faced closure.
After an autopsy, it emerged Miki had an underlying heart issue, but leading animal welfare charities have asked why the condition hadn’t been identified before the long journey was begun – and called for Jimmy’s to ensure that nothing similar occurs to the brown bear, Diego.
Chris Lewis, captivity research officer at Born Free, said: ‘This isn’t necessarily something which can be laid purely at the feet of Jimmy’s Farm [but] there’s questions which need to be asked of the zoo which had been keeping those animals as why they hadn’t detected the issue.’
And Mr Lewis also raised fears the journey itself could have exacerbated the bear’s condition.
A wildlife park run by celebrity farmer Jimmy Doherty is preparing to transport a brown bear a thousand miles to its Suffolk reserve
Polar bear Ewa travelled from a sanctuary in Orsa, Sweden, to Jimmy’s farm in Ipswich, Suffolk alongside her cub Miki (pictured together). Miki died shortly afterwards, possibly due to a heart defect
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He said: ‘We have heard from insiders that these bears were moved during a European heat wave and it’s likely it could have exacerbated any heart condition.’
The journey involved travelling on roads through Sweden, a ferry into mainland Europe before finally arriving in Folkestone via the Eurotunnel.
Ewa, who was born in captivity in a zoo in the Netherlands in November 2005, wouldn’t have been able to survive being released into the wild.
She is now living in a 16-acre site at the park, an enclosure Mr Doherty claims to be the biggest of its type in Europe.
Miki was the daughter of Ewa and Wilbär and she was born in Orsa on the 3rd of December 2020. But when the zoo faced closure, it was said that animals that were not rehomed at suitable alternative centres might have to be put down – and it was at this point Jimmy’s stepped in to rehome both bears.
But despite their best intentions, the rescue of Ewa has revived concerns among some over the long-term viability of keeping polar bears in captivity.
Mr Lewis added: ‘Polar bears are wide ranging carnivores. They have very specific and complex needs that cannot possibly be met in a captive setting. However, we acknowledge that these bears needed a home and the enclosure Jimmy’s is providing is probably larger than the majority of European enclosures.’
Dr Andrew Kelly, the director of Freedom for Animals which campaigns for the end of captivity for animals, said: ‘It’s disappointing to see another facility in the UK bringing in a polar bear.
Video of polar bear mother Ewa at Jimmy’s farm after travelling from Orsa in Sweden
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‘It has been known for decades that polar bears simply do not thrive in captivity and overall, there’s been a trend for reducing their numbers. ‘We cannot provide a suitable environment for them. They range for literally thousands of miles, have territories thousands of square kilometres.
‘When you see polar bears in captivity, they’re often walking around in circles at the perimeter of their enclosures because they want to keep going, and this leads of physical and mental health problems for polar bears.’
He added that the very need for a new home for Ewa and Miki highlighted the issue that zoos ‘don’t have long term plans for their animals’.
Dr Kelly said captive polar bears do nothing to address the problems will polar bears face and were simply there ‘for a day’s entertainment’ aimed at getting ‘more paying customers through the doors’.
He went on: ‘We would like to see a ban on the keeping of polar bears in captivity in the UK and we would like to see sanctuaries being set up in their natural range.’
Dr Lewis said he hoped lessons would be learned from the death of Miki.
‘I would like to think that they would make sure that Diego undergoes a thorough health inspection to ensure that he is fit for transport beforehand.’
Despite the tragedy over Miki, the attraction, near Ipswich, is now fundraising and preparing for the arrival of Diego, the final bear that needs rehoming from the Orsa park.
The fundraising appeal to create Diego’s ‘forever home’ has so far raised more than £55,000, closing in on its £70,000 target.
Mr Doherty, who studied zoology, has been widely applauded for his conservation work, charges £15-17.50 for admission to the attraction – so a ‘nuclear’ family of two adults and two children would pay £65 to see Ewa.
Miki (left) sadly died on the journey but her mother Ewa (right) made it safely there
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Douglas Richardson, Strategic, Communications & Husbandry Advisor to the Polar Bear EEP, speaking on behalf of Jimmy’s Farm, for whom he is Zoological Consultant, insisted that every possible precaution had been taken to ensure the bears’ wellbeing both in transit and afterwards.
Mr Richardson told MailOnline: ‘Ewa and Miki travelled between 4th and 6th October 2023. The bears were in fully climate-controlled vehicles. Weather is always a potential issue for any animal rescue and transportation, but any well planned animal move, like this one, takes potential issues into account and provides equipment and timing to negate any possible problems.
‘Miki passed on 6th October on arrival. Miki’s undiagnosed heart condition was not detected by any vet in Sweden prior to her rescue, or in the thorough pre-travel health check. It was only discovered in her post-mortem which took place in the UK. From what could be seen on the post mortem, such heart abnormalities would not have been detectable in any species without a more invasive examination and probably not even then.
‘All zoological collections must have a relocation plan as part their zoo licensing agreement.’
He went on: ‘Diego will have a full, thorough health check as Miki and Ewa did. Risk is involved in any intensive rescue effort. Jimmy’s team will endeavour to minimise the risk of all rescue efforts, and will continue to consult the very best experts in their field at every stage of planning, transport and care.’
And he added: ‘Returning these bears to the wild was not an option. Complex mammals, like polar bears, need to be prepared for release back to the wild and Ewa’s upbringing and habituation to humans precludes her from being a candidate for release.
‘A shrinking polar ice-cap and shortening polar ice season has pitched the species to the fore-front of conservation concerns, so much so that the conservation groups including Polar Bears International now feel that the modern zoo community has an increasingly important role to play, which includes keeping and managing polar bears within collections long term.’
He also pointed out that Jimmy’s have no intention of breeding from Ewa.
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