Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What it is really like for the Marineland polar bears

Flocke on top, gives Raspi a little kiss, or is it a bite?
Do you want to know what life is really like for Flocke and Raspi (AKA Rasputin, Raspoutine), who live in a state-of-the- art polar bear habitat on the French Riviera? 

Mother Flocke, and Baby Hope, in 2015 spring

I have visited Flocke and Raspi and their daughter Hope at Marineland in Antibes, France, four times, and for many days each time,  over the past few years. I have talked to their keepers. I have observed them. This bear family is indeed fortunate to live in a comfortable, well managed environment where their needs are always taken care of by staff who love them. Flocke and Raspi were well loved in Nuremburg before they came to Marineland, and their former zoo caretakers visit them in their new home as often as they can. Flocke especially gets very excited when her "parents" come to visit, as they raised her with a bottle from a very young age.

During breeding season, Raspi chases Flocke. It is what boy bears do.
Recently a crazy petition has been going around claiming that the polar bears at Marineland are suffering, and the petition falsely describes harsh conditions, and demands that these bear be moved. This petition is based upon a video shot in June by some anti-zoo visitor, who obviously had no idea what he was looking at. If Raspi  seems agitated in the video, it is because he is "lovesick," as male polar bears tend to be during breeding season.  

Raspi guards Flocke, who takes a position on high ground
and warns him to keep his distance if she is not in the mood
Since Marineland is built right on the Mediterranean Sea, the climate is quite temperate. The average high in August is 81 degrees F, quite in line with the average high of many zoo locations. It is the same as Chicago, where there are two zoos with polar bears.  The average August high in Cincinnati, which has two polar bears, is 85 degrees F. The two polar bears in Kansas City exist quite nicely with a 90 degree F average August temperature, thanks to ice treats, chilly pools and air conditioning. I visited KC in August last year, and polar bear Berlin was quite active and happy. This summer, all of Europe was very hot, probably warmer than in Antibes, which has the nearby sea to moderate temperatures. Even Sweden, where Hope now lives, was hot this summer. 

Raspi is quite the avid swimmer.
The sea breezes keep it comfortable at Marineland, and polar bears adjust quite well to living in moderate summer conditions, as long as they have air conditioning inside, and cool pools in which to swim. Polar bears in warmer climes are given less fat in their diet, so they don't have the insulating blubber of a wild bear, and their fur may not be as thick.  

Flocke and Hope in the mother-child enclosure below,
 when Hope small, before she moved to Sweden.  
The three enclosures at Marineland are well designed, spacious and with varied terrain, including large grassy areas.

Flocke plays Queen of the Mountain on one of the stone arches
There are stone arches to provide climbing opportunities and shade, and overhead shade awnings have been installed in several areas. Even though there is shade, the bears tend to ignore it, often choosing to nap in the sun. In addition, water mist sprayers have been installed in the mother-cub area to spray water intermittently. 

Years ago, Baby Hope takes a nap with her mom Flocke
While the utility doors shown in the offending video are closed, the main doors which the bears use to go in and out are always open, so the bears always have access to the air conditioned bedrooms inside, if they wish. If a bear is outside, it means they want to be outside.  The doors are only closed when the bears are inside, as in when the keepers are cleaning the area.

Behind Raspi, a closed utility door, falsely cited in the offending video.
 Behind Flocke, to the right, the doors are open. 

Raspi guards Flocke, who is in the interior hallway.
 So the petition's claim that the bears are locked out in the heat is totally false. Raspi often chases Flocke in and out of those hallways and doors, because he is so anxious to be with her.

Raspi chasing Flocke yet again.
When the video was made in June, shortly after my visit in May, Raspi was indeed frothing at the mouth but not because he was too warm. He had been pursuing his lovely Flocke, passionately chasing her around because his hormones were telling him that it was still breeding season. Male bears in the throes of a heightened sex drive may foam a little at the mouth, have reduced appetite, and be very single minded about what they want.

The two bears were separated for three years, when Flocke was raising their cub, Hope. Now that they are together again, Raspi is making up for lost time. The keepers do separate the two bears at times, so Flocke can have some alone time. Some separation makes for a better relationship between the two bears when they come together again. 

Flocke naps in the ice grotto
Marineland has made every effort to keep the bears comfortable. Here on the French Riviera, the bears have access to two large ice caverns, the likes of which I have not seen at any other zoos. Ice makers provide a constant  chilly snow and ice environment which simulates winter. 

Hope in the ice cavern, with Flocke behind.
 Keepers often hide special snacks in the snow, so the bears can forage for their dinner. While Flocke and Hope seemed to enjoy their ice cave, and often took naps there, Raspi is a less frequent visitor to his winter grotto, although it is available to him whenever he wants it.

Flocke chills out.

Flocke and Hope in the ice cave


Raspi at the door of his ice cavern
Of course a great way to cool off is to go for a swim. Marineland has deep diving pools filled with chilled water in the two upper enclosures, and a shallow baby pool with a feeder stream in the mother-child enclosure below. Raspi is a big fan of swimming, and does lots of laps every day.

Baby Hope with her mom in the baby pool

Raspi swims

Flocke and Hope swim together in the old days,
 before Hope grew up and moved to a new home in Sweden.
I am sure very few of the petition signers ever visited Marineland, and had no idea what they were signing. Please, don't sign petitions unless you have first hand knowledge of the situation.

Here is a short video of Raspi chasing Flocke, and they end up swimming happily together. The video was taken in May this year.

Video: Raspi chases Flocke, catches her!

Flocke and Hope clown around in the ice cavern

I will tell the story of Flocke and Raspi (and little Hope), and how they came to live in Marineland, in my next post, with many photos of their early years together, thanks to a dear friend in Nuremburg.

Happy Raspi


  1. Thanks for these wonderful pictures of Flocke, Raspi and Hope. I haven't had a chance to visit our dream-team from N├╝rnberg for quite a long time, so I'm very happy and grateful to see they are doing fine!
    Raspi is an impressing polar bear giant and Flocke is just beautiful!
    Thank you very much for your post and pictures Molly!
    Love from Heidi from Erlangen

  2. It is exactly as you write it Molly!
    Thank you!

    Greetings from Nuremberg