Bärle’s Story: A Polar Bear's Rescue and Recovery from Abuse

This heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and heartful book is a must read

Posted Jun 02, 2014

Every now and again we are treated to a story about the amazing recovery of an individual nonhuman animal (animal) and the wonderful people who worked (and continue to work) tirelessly and selflessly to make her or his life worth living. In some cases it would be easier, and some would argue more merciful, to euthanize the animal to end the suffering. Gladly, there are people who take on the somewhat onerous work of bringing peace, comfort, and safety to an animal whose life had been one of deep abuse and interminable suffering. Consider the life of Bärle (pronounced Bear-la), a polar bear born in the 1980s in the Canadian Arctic, who somehow survived years of incredibly inhumane treatment at the Suarez Brothers Circus in Puerto Rico.

Bärle’s Story: One Polar Bear's Amazing Recovery from Life as a Circus Act, by Else Poulsen, is a book that will move you to tears of sadness and tears of joy. Not only is it a story of hope for the numerous animals who suffer at the hands of humans in a wide variety of venues, but it also is a good review of polar bear biology. And, it is no secret that their lives are imperiled and who knows how long these magnificent animals will be around?

Does one bear's life matter?

In Bärle's Story, in addition to following her remarkable recovery, you also will meet a dedicated team of people for whom Bärle's life, from the moment she arrived at the Detroit Zoo, became the most important part of their own lives. Rehabilitating an aching and needy animal who is suffering deep psychological and physical trauma is no easy job. It's a journey with ups and downs and twists and turns and only the most dedicated of people can sustain the wild ride filled with grief, sorrow, and joy. In this case, they did, much to their credit and Bärle's good fortune. I know of this wild ride having worked with Jill Robinson and her amazing team at Animal Asia's Moon Bear Rescue Centre outside of Chengdu, China. Indeed, Bärle's counterpart in China, an incredible Asiatic moon bear named Jasper, was the subject of a book Jill and I wrote called Jasper's story: Saving moon bears.

The last chapter of Bärle's Story is called "Does one bear's life matter?" It really is thought provoking. Some might question the resources that went into Bärle's rescue and recovery and say with some regret, "No", whereas others might say something like, "We are obligated to help where we can, and this surely is one situation in which we could do something to help a needy animal along." My answer to this question is an unqualified "Yes" -- the life of every individual animal matters and it is our responsibility to do all we can to right the wrongs for which we are responsible. In addition, we must do all we can to prevent such inhumane and brutal treatment in the future. The animals cannot fight for themselves and it is up to us to work on their behalf.

I urge you to read Bärle's Story and to share it widely. I also urge you to share her story with youngsters, recognizing fully that care must be taken when speaking about how she was treated. Nonetheless, there is a wonderful and inspirational story of hope in this book that can become the seed for people to get more involved in cases such as this or in others in which animals have been abused and rescue and recovery is possible. It is a gross understatement to say the animals need all the help they can get. They do.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff




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