Winnipeg zoo unashamedly frightens children about polar bear extinction, for a price

The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg is selling Polar Bears International-style1 “save our sea ice” global warming propaganda to children, which it calls “messaging.”

“The centre is deliberately targeting children, fully aware that there is a magical connection between the cuddly, entertaining orphan cubs and young visitors.”

Orphaned cubs from Churchill now on display in Winnipeg

Orphaned cubs from Churchill now on display in Winnipeg

That’s the money quote, in more ways than one, from an article at The Globe and Mail earlier this week (23 November 2014), “Innovative Winnipeg zoo experiment shares the plight of polar bears” in which the author promotes the new “Journey to Churchill” exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg as “an ambitious experiment.”

The article includes some revealing remarks from the zoo’s director, veterinarian Brian Joseph, including this one:

“Children are the audience,” Dr. Joseph says. “Adults are the audience, too, but if you think about who is going to change the world, they are the ones who have the open minds and open hearts. They are the ones who can make a true difference.

So if you can reach that audience when they are little and you can start messaging ‘Let’s think about this,’ ‘Let’s make good choices,’ then when they get to be in decision-making capacities, they’ll make good choices.” [my bold]

However, to “start messaging” one child old enough to comprehend this material (say, ~8-12 years old), it will cost the parents a few cents shy of $50.00 (actually, $49.35 with tax Canadian; USD$43.80). Cost is the same for children 4-7 years who are probably unable to comprehend but that’s the gravy part of the operation because it’s probably cheaper for the parents than a babysitter.

Taking a ten year old and its teenaged sibling will cost parents almost $65.00 (CAD$64.90; USD$57.60) for their special polar bear “education.”

Assiniboine Park Zoo Winnipeg

Assiniboine Park Zoo Winnipeg

Winning zoo formula: target children with appeals to their emotions rather than their intellect and pile on the guilt-laden green propaganda – call it “messaging” and charge the parents big money for the privilege.

“Journey to Churchill” entrance to one of the exhibit’s sections: ” Journey to Churchill is the most comprehensive project ever undertaken in Canada aimed at issues related to climate change, polar bears and other northern species.”

“Journey to Churchill”(entrance to one of the exhibit’s sections, above) is described as ”the most comprehensive project ever undertaken in Canada aimed at issues related to climate change, polar bears and other northern species.”

It’s all meant to sound like this zoo’s “experiment” is all about saving the polar bears and teaching children to “care” and “make a difference,” rather than providing revenue for the Zoo.

But have a look at some of the “science” that the director claims is behind this exhibit. I don’t know about you, but I find the misinformation almost indistinguishable from the stuff on the pages of Polar Bears International. There may be some facts at the root of it but the spin is truly discouraging:

The alarms sound regularly. One scientific study predicts that by the year 2050 only 40 per cent of the polar-bear population will be left. Another study followed 80 polar bear cubs through their first year of life – and found only two survived.” [my bold]

As I’ve pointed out before, the “scientific study” that made the prophesies of severe polar bear population declines by 2050 has been harshly criticized by experts in population size modeling who publish the IUCN Red List. Those models, developed primarily by Polar Bears International spokesperson Steven Amstrup, have been deemed not suitable for evaluating future conservation concerns.

The problems with the other study I laid out recently, here and here.

If the director had read the latest study or kept up on what the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has been doing lately, or even seen the latest Environment Canada status maps, he might have known better.

More comments from Dr. Joseph:

“When sea ice shrinks,” Dr. Joseph says, “it shrinks the length of time that the bears can feed. It gets shorter. During the off-season, the bear is denned up. It’s trying to do as little as possible. It loses a huge amount of its body fat. And if that time between its next feed gets a month longer, it could increase mortality incredibly. One single horrific climate event could knock this polar bear population down to half in one year.” [my bold]

To suggest to children and their parents that polar bears normally do significant amounts of hunting during September (see Global and Mail graphic below), when sea ice is at its lowest extent, is a deliberate red herring.

Polar bears do most of their feeding in the spring, which has seen a bit of a decline since but not enough to matter to polar bears. Spring is the critical feeding period for polar bears and recent observations have shown that the extent of ice extent in September has had little to no effect on polar bears.

And despite what Andrew Derocher has imagined about what a single “bad” year of summer sea ice conditions might do to polar bears (see the summary of “The Politics of Polar Bears” (28 August 2014), as far as real evidence is concerned, too much ice in spring is the only phenomenon that has been that deadly for polar bears.

Never mind that one year of bad ice conditions is not “climate,” it’s weather.

I get it — a money-making zoo doesn’t need to bother about getting facts straight when it has important “messaging” to do.

I just pity the poor children.

Footnote 1:
Polar Bears International strongly supports zoos that promote “save the polar bear” propaganda. See this Washington Post article (from 2012):

Robert Buchanan, president of Polar Bears International, a group that works to help the animals, said displaying them in zoos could represent the best way to persuade the public to make such cuts.

“The only way at this time to save bears is to have people change their habits, and the way to do that is through zoos and aquariums,” he said. “Polar bears are just ambassadors for their friends in the Arctic.”

Related posts:
New polar bear exhibit at Winnipeg zoo will help make it “self-sustaining” April 21, 2014

Zoos use myth of disappearing polar bears to breed them in captivity December 16, 2013

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