Could Suffolk become a refuge for polar bears?

One of the Jimmy's Farm polar bears
A wildlife park is investigating the effect climate change has on polar bears [Luke Deal/BBC]

A wildlife park is researching whether Suffolk could become a permanent refuge for polar bears as climate change impacts the world.

Jimmy's Farm & Wildlife Park near Ipswich is home to three polar bears that enjoy a 16-acre (6.5ha) enclosure.

Stevie Sheppard, park director, said they were investigating the effects of climate change on the habitats of the Arctic mammals.

He explained that polar bears only thriving in extremely cold environments was a common misconception.

"In the summer season, they're in flower meadows and in Hudson Bay, which is the polar bear capital of the world, they're hitting temperatures of 35C year on year," he said.

Stevie Sheppard
Stevie Sheppard said polar bears in the wild were spending less time in cold environments [Luke Deal/BBC]

"There's always this misconception that polar bears live in sea ice and they're in the snow all the time," Mr Sheppard told BBC Radio Suffolk.

"Actually for six months of the year - now more than that because we haven't got the ice caps and the sea ice that we used to - they're getting shorter windows [in the ice]."

'Natural habitat'

The park's three polar bears - Ewa, Flocke and Tala - have access to a large pond as well as a wooded area.

Mr Sheppard said the bears had been sunbathing and enjoying the cool water during the recent warm weather.

The park is investigating whether the species is losing its natural habitat and what can be done to safeguard them in the future.

Mr Sheppard explained it would take a few years as they monitor weather and climate patterns.

"We're researching because with climate change are we losing their natural habitat," Mr Sheppard added.

"If we are, do we need to make a refuge and could Suffolk be a really good refuge?"

But Chris Lewis, of international wildlife charity Born Free, sounded a note of caution.

He said: "When society looks back in years to come, people will rightly be shocked that zoos ever thought that they could keep such wide-ranging animals, that are fine-tuned to survive in such extreme conditions, in a captive environment.

"The zoo industry must remove their blinkers and accept that the welfare needs of polar bears cannot be met in captivity and humanely bring this practice to its long-awaited end."

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