England’s only captive giant polar bear arrived at Yorkshire Wildlife Park on Thursday after a carefully-planned trip via ferry and road from his former home in Rhenen Zoo, Holland.
Victor, who weighs a massive 1,058lb, sired ten cubs as part of the European breeding programme before retiring to the park, near Doncaster.
His new home, Project Polar, is the biggest of its kind in Europe - and he has already made an impact on visitors.
Park director Cheryl Williams said: “The reserve has been packed, and Victor has been amazing. He’s been posing away, stood up on the big rock.
“He’s a really impressive bear but what impressed people the most is that he’s so relaxed and enjoying the space around him.
“Everyone was wowed - he’s a show stealer.”
Victor was accompanied on his journey by his Dutch keeper Dorine van Appledoorn, who stayed at the park for the weekend to help him settle in.
The park is hoping that Victor’s arrival will signal the first of many bears finding a new home at Project Polar, a specially created 10-acre facility, which includes an acre-wide lake and four enclosures - and space for up to ten polar bears.
Planning for Project Polar began three years ago, with the Park looking at the mistakes made by other zoos in housing polar bears to ensure they designed the best possible enclosure.
The naturalistic style of the reserves mirrors that of the Arctic Tundra with grass, herbs, shrubs and heath, as well as rocky areas, caves and the huge lake, which is eight metres deep.
Last year the park offered to re-home polar bear Yupi, from a Mexican zoo, and further additions could also be from difficult environments.
Yorkshire Wildlife Park has a history of animal rescue. In 2010, a pride of 13 lions which were being kept in cramped conditions were flown in from a dilapidated Romanian zoo to find a new home at the park.
“It’s a big responsibility to take on animals that have come from difficult conditions. With the lions for example, we spent thousands of pounds on dental care for them, and had to use a lorry so one could have a MRI scan as it was having mobility problems,“ said Mrs Williams.
“But it’s also very exciting, It’s extreme conservation.”
The park is still hoping to rehome Yupi, whose current enclosure has virtually no shade and offers little stimulation. Since it offered to take the bear, a new director has been appointed at Morelia Zoo, where she has been homed since 1992, and he is still considering the move.
Mrs Williams said: “It would be wonderful if she could enjoy the rest of her life in the reserve here, so we wait for further news from Morelia. Project Polar combines all the core YWP values of conservation and welfare, as well as being a centre for research and provides a facility for other polar bears that are rescued or in need of rehoming. ”
Victor’s arrival also enables the park to raise awareness of the plight of wild polar bears, by raising money for conservation group Polar Bear International, but also by teaching visitors of the simple things they can do to reduce climate change, like switching off appliances that are not in use.
Mrs Williams said: “Having Victor here is one way we can provide a living catalyst to get people to make changes.
“He has done his bit as a super-dad, and now seems very happy exploring the enclosure.”
AS Sea ice decreases, more wild polar bears are facing starvation, say the WWF.
It says climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of the species - something Yorkshire Wildlife Park hope to educate its visitors about. Chief executive John Minion said Victor would be an “ambassador for the Arctic.”
He said: “Polar bears are an iconic species that are increasingly threatened in their native habitat and we need to fight their cause.
“Their native sea ice is disappearing due to climate change but we still have a chance to do something about it and at Project Polar we can share with visitors how they can help.”