The humans toss a container of fish mush into the large enclosure. I watch seven identical creatures plodding over excitedly. Bleuch! The thought of tasting any of that unnatural mess makes my stomach churn.
I’ve barely moved from this spot since my arrival, two days ago. I’m sitting under a large icicle, my head in my paws, trying to figure out why I can’t catch any drips from it in my mouth. A friendly looking bear has just told me that it’s made from ‘plastic’. Must be some yucky human food. I wouldn’t mind one of those plump penguins just across the way, but they just seem to flap and wave at us from behind their railings, as if to say, “You can’t catch us!”.
The other bears finish munching their chopped up junk. They approach me with heads down. They remind me of those fake, cuddly bears I’ve seen small humans on arctic bus tours holding. For the first time, a smile reaches my white, furry lips. Such wimps!
“So, where’re you from, Lady?” The friendly bear speaks first, as the others circle around me.
I pretend not to notice their presence.
“C’mon, You have to speak some time.”
They won’t give up so easily.
“Nunavut,” I offer.
“Are there many other polar bears in your zoo there?” asks a precocious little cub. His mother nudges into him.
“Our friend,” explains the friendly bear, “appears to be from the arctic region in Canada.”
I stare at him, then nod. Most of this lot have lived all their pampered lives in this place, so his knowledge is impressive.
“My ancestors came from that area,” he points out.
“So what’s it like?” asks the cub. “It must be wonderful - the great tundra!”
The others wait expectantly. I open my mouth, then pause. Perhaps I shouldn’t tell the truth. Judging by their eager faces, finding out about ‘the great melt-down’ may be a push too far.
“Well, to start with, there’s space galore!” The bears roar with delight in response. “Room to roam from one iceberg to the next, to roll over on the cool ice, to make snow dens! The freedom to do as you please!”
For a moment my eyes light up, then I remember each fearful footfall across the ice, hoping that it won’t crack. I recall the dilemma of being stranded on a small iceberg in Hudson Bay.
“And the food - delicious! None of this fish mush. There’s nothing nicer than fresh seal pup straight out of the water.”
A seal pup is a rare treat these days. Even if you do find one, you would have to swim for almost thirty miles in freezing water. My heart yearns for my mother, who died on one such expedition. If it weren’t for her stories, I wouldn’t be able to tell these folk about the ‘good old days.’
“Once I wrestled a beluga whale with my bear paws, and….” They eye me warily. I’ve gone too far. I change the subject. “Ever chased a human? It’s great fun to hear them squeal!”
I actually hide from most humans, and only dream of such fun. Sometimes a bus with the sign, ‘Last of the Polar Bears Tour’ arrives. I don’t know what that means, but it always makes me feel a twinge of pain. The humans point and wave, taking out little boxes with flashing lights when they see a bear.
“Of course, it was humans who caught me in the end,” I warn them. “Last thing I remember is being shot in the behind. Then I went all sleepy.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll look after you.” Nanook, the friendly bear stands close to me. I suddenly remember the feeling of standing in the arctic tundra all alone. Perhaps some good will come from all this.
Six weeks on, and I’m quite enjoying the warm water they provide to swim in, though I still miss strolling along the bay. The food isn’t so bad either. I think my taste buds are getting used to it. I’m not eating so much though as I’ve been feeling a little queasy lately. My tummy is growing, and I’m getting weird cravings for fish heads!
Nanook and I are inseparable. He has taught me everything I need to know about the ‘zoo’, and in return often begs me to tell him more about the arctic. I always oblige, my heart full of pride as I remember its fascinating, though fading beauty.
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