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There aren't many animals I don't like, in fact I can't think of any I don't like. I even like the frighteningly cute lemur known as the aye-aye with it's bony, long middle digit, large eyes and sharp little teeth necessary for getting bugs out of tree branches at night. However there is only one I would drive an hour to see in below 20F (-6.6C) temperatures, polar bears.

Polar bears are majestic animals. They are large, menacing creatures of the north bearing dangerous fangs and heavy clawed paws that would likely crush your skull with one swipe. Their yellow/white furry covering allows them to blend with their snowy surroundings while their large paws help aid them in swimming in icy waters for the ever delicious fishies below. These are their dangerous characteristics. They are also quite playful creatures.

Knowing only three zoo's in the Maryland area, and only one with polar bears, I snagged two friends and headed to the Baltimore Zoo to see Magnet.

Fun facts about Magnet
Magnet is an 800 pound male polar bear that is about 15 years old. He's quite an attractive fellow, highly photogenic. In December 2001 he was voted on by the American public and won the highly prestigious position of being Microsoft® "Zoo Tycoon™" Beast in Show. He beat out ten other animals from zoos across the country for the position. The award gave him a $20,000 signing bonus for appearing in Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon PC game. Magnet is downloadable for the game, and players have to build him the ultimate habitat while caring for him. Fun facts about polar bears are integrated into the game so the player learns about them while creating the perfect environment.

The award of Beast in Show is a prestigious one that the Baltimore Zoo and all zoos with animals who have won it are proud to advertise. It gives the animal the notoriety of being America's favorite zoo animal superstar, which of course brings in money for the zoo and the animal. The money that Magnet got is being put into creating a whole new habitat for Magnet and his new mate, as the current one is 55 years old.

According to the zoo's website..Magnet's favorite meal is smelt. yummmmm. He also enjoys swimming on his back..this is the playfulness I was talking about earlier.

Alaska's dramatic rescue
I had remembered hearing something about a polar bear being rescued from Mexico last summer. That was part of the reason I wanted to go see the bears, I wanted to see the lovely that had been brought to colder temperatures. There was a little board telling about her rescue from a Mexican Circus in Puerto Rico. My first reaction was, what the hell are polar bears doing in Mexico? My second was to remember that animals probably shouldn't be in zoos anyway, rather in the wild living out their natural lives. Still, if they are going to be in zoos, they shouldn't be allowed in places where the temperatures are dangerously high or low from that in their natural environment. Then it hit me..a circus?

Alaska, and six other polar bears, lived as members of the Suarez Bros. Circus. The only reason the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was able to confiscate her from her torturers was because they had lied on her import papers. The other six bears remain in their horrible conditions. Their lives threatened daily by the extreme heat. Polar bears can suffer heat exhaustion in temperatures as low as 32F (0C), and in their current home the temperatures get as high as 113F (45C). There aren't allowed access to air conditioning or cool water, and are hit and whipped as they are forced to perform.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is doing what it can for these animals within its legal limits. They have cited the Suarez Circus for its unsuitable treatment of the bears and conditions for the bears to live in. However, one polar bear was already lost to neglect in 1998, when it suffered a prolonged and painful death to untreated heartworm.

Oregon's Congressman Earl Blumenauer has introduced a bill that may save the majestic polar bear, as it outlaws keeping them in circuses. There is still hope for those other six bears in Puerto Rico.

I went to the zoo on my birthday hoping to see the beautiful white bears, and I did. Christa, Beth and I had the entire zoo to ourselves, so I was able to take numerous photos and watch them sleep and play without fighting a crowd or listening to screaming kids. It was thirty minutes of peacful silence.

All I wanted from the trip as a souvenir were my photos, memories and a magnet of Magnet. Unfortunately the zoo had only one magnet in stock, and it wasn't of polar bears. But I had a better souvenir. I have extraordinary photos, I had a day of utter happiness that I hadn't experienced in a long time and I have a new mission. I can aid the congressman in his mission to save my favorite animal, I can write letters and I can let my government know I care about those six other bears.

I can help.

A photo I took of Magnet:

A photo I took of Alaska: http://www.geocities.com/kwash21/Alaska.jpg

The Baltimore Zoo, http://www.baltimorezoo.org
Microsoft, http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2001/dec01/12-13BeastInShowWinnerPR.asp
Zoo Tycoon, http://zootycoon.com
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, http://www.house.gov/blumenauer/polarbears.html


As I was reading the paper this weekend I noticed that there was an article on two polar bears in Washington. When I investigated I found out that they were two of the six bears that had been in the circus. The six had all been rescued from the Suarez Brothers circus in November of 2002.

U.S. fereral wildlife authorities determined their quarters to be unhealthy and inadequate and their care in violation of the U.S. Marine Mammal Act, so they were removed and brought to the states. One bear died in transit and the others were placed in zoos in Detroit, Michigan, Asheboro, North Carolina and Tacoma, Washington.

Kenneth and Boris, the two males at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Washington made their first debut this weekend.

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