Polar Bear

(Ursus maritimus)




Facts about this animal

A very large bear with a length of about 185-300 cm, a shoulder height of 130-160 cm and a weight of 300-800 kg (males) and 150-300 kg (females). They have a long neck, small and round ears, black nose, lips and skin and a white, greyish white or yellowish coat colour. The hair is dense with a pronounced sheen, 50-100 mm in length and longer on the limbs. The underfur is thick and white or yellowish. The hair is translucent and transfers heat from sun down to the base of the shaft where it is absorbed by the black skin. The feets are large and broad, the soles are covered with dense hair except for a narrow naked pad. The claws are relatively short and sharp and almost hidden by shaggy hair.


Polar bears make their home on the islands, coastlines and floating ice blocks of the Arctic. They spend most of their time in the water in search of food, mainly seals, especially Ringed Seals. Their webbed paws and streamlined body form help make them expert swimmers. Their whitish coat helps hide them in their snowy white world, an advantage when they want to sneak up on prey. As is the case with most bears, polar bears are not very social animals. Adults spend little time together, except during breeding season. The closest bond is between a mother and her young. Mother bears are very attentive to their cubs. Polar Bears do not hibernate, though the lactating females will not emerge from their cave while the cubs are very young, relying on stored body fat for both her own nutrition and that of the cubs.

Did you know?
That the Inuit (eskimo) people hunt the polar bear for fur and meat but cannot eat its liver, since its high content of vitamin A makes it poisonous for humans? So, be careful if you run across polar bear on a menu - 500 grams of polar bear liver will deliver about 9,000,000 IU vitamin A to your diet - a very lethal dose. Headaches, blurred vision, loss of hair, drowsiness and diarrhea, enlargement of the spleen and liver can all be indications when your intake is too high.


Name (Scientific) Ursus maritimus
Name (English) Polar Bear
Name (French) Ours blanc ou Ours polaire
Name (German) Eisbär
Name (Spanish) Oso polar
Local names Danish, Norwegian: Isbjørn
Icelandic: Hvítabjörn
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Photo © R. & C. Buchanan/Polar Bears International



Range Circumpolar arctic region
Habitat Ice floes and costal waters
Wild population 20,000 to 25,000 (2008)
Zoo population 180 reported to ISIS in April 2009.

In the Zoo

Polar Bear


How this animal should be transported

For air transport, Container Note 72 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Photo © R. & C. Buchanan/Polar Bears International

Why do zoos keep this animal

The polar bear is currently not yet endangered but categorised as Vulnerable by IUCN. Zoos keep polar bears therefore primarily for educational purposes to demonstrate how the bear family adapted to arctic and maritime conditions and thus became able to expand its range into the north polar zone. Of course the polar bear is also an excellent ambassador for its ecosystem and may serve as a flagship species for campaigns or educational programmes raising awareness about Global Warming.

The species is subject to many threats including environmental pollution, oil and gas exploitation, unsustainable or illegal harvest, and global warming. As total numbers are relatively small, and global warming will make the ecological situation for the species rather precarious, it is thus possible that the zoo population may increase in conservation importance in the years to come. With a view of building up a viable reserve population, an International Studbook has therefore been established in 1981 under the WAZA umbrella, and coordinated conservation breeding programmes are operated at the regional level by AZA, EAZA and JAZA.