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Highland polar bear

Mercedes the polar bear has been settling into her new home in the Scottish Highlands. She was moved there from Edinburgh zoo 4 months ago, and with temperatures regularly hitting -16 Centigrade (3 Fahrenheit) recently, she's never felt more at home.

The Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland.
It's just a few miles away from the ski resort of Aviemore, and it's Mercedes the polar bear's first experience of a Highland winter.
At an elevation of 228 metres (748 feet) Aviemore is one of coldest places in Britain.
This morning it's a chilly -9 degrees Centigrade (16 Fahrenheit) at her home in the Highlands National Park, but the area has seen temperatures plummet as low as -16 (3 Fahrenheit) over the past few months.
And Mercedes has been loving it - rolling around in the snow and sniffing out her new environment.
She was moved here from a small enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo last October, where she had been for 25 years. Now she has 4 acres all to herself and a climate that's as close to her natural habitat as the U.K. can offer. David Barclay, Senior Keeper at the Highland Wildlife Park, says it was perfect timing that she arrived just before the winter. She spent the first couple of days sleeping and recovering from the trip over, but before long she was running around enjoying the snow.
"She taken to it very well, she's been playing in the snow, rolling around, investigating different smells, trying to dig rabbits out of holes, bashing through the ice in her pool, so we think she loves it," he says.
As the warmer weather comes in Mercedes' diet and behaviour will start to change. Mercedes has been displaying some odd behaviour of late. She's been pacing in a small area of her enclosure - sometimes for hours on end. The keepers believe it's a combination of seasonal change and habits she may have picked up from her old enclosure in Edinburgh.
"It's a strange behaviour. A lot of people will see pacing behaviour in captive animals and will be shocked and think 'oh the animal is completely stressed', we certainly don't believe that's the case with Mercedes. When we had her at Edinburgh we had behaviourists come in and look at her and study her behaviour and they didn't believe it was stress related," says Barclay.
"What we think it is, it's the transition of the winter conditions moving into the slightly warmer spring / summer conditions. That with wild polar bears means that their diet will change, their behaviour will change, they'll move a lot further for food, because there's not as much food around. Ice caps are starting to melt as the warmer weather comes and also the breeding season for polar bears, we're not far off when females may be having cubs, so we think that the behaviour that she exhibits here does tie in with a change in behaviour the wild bears come across," he adds.
Mercedes was often known to pace at Edinburgh, regardless of the season, but Barclay says the current pacing only started a few weeks ago and he's confident that it will only be another few weeks before Mercedes is back to normal.
Carnivore keeper, Robert Rankin is preparing Mercedes' mid morning snack.
On the menu today is horse meat and trout.
Depending on the season, Rankin says that Mercedes will chomp her way through up to 10 kgs (22 lbs) of meat a day. She also gets treated to conger eels and willow tree branches - all served up with a sprinkling of carnivore powder and a splash of cod liver oil.
"I'm going to sprinkle onto the meat just now, this is a carnivore powder, we rub that in, there's calcium in that and all good minerals for her as well, but also the cod liver oil is really good as well for a polar bear. Polar bears need fat as well," says Rankin.
The treats are given to Mercedes as part of a training session that she has every two to three days.
Rankin explains: "We get her to put her feet up onto the mesh there, we can actually check her feet and see if there's any cracks in her feet and that, or if there's any injury in her feet and that means we can get her to put that foot up and we can get a better view of it and see what's going on more."
But Mercedes is having far too much fun for any learning today!
"She doesn't seem to be interested today, that happens, it's kind of seasonal at this time of the year it happens more and she's not playing ball today."
Although Mercedes is widely known as the UK's only polar bear there are actually two in Britain - one is privately owned and lives in the south of England.
But Barclay says Mercedes is the only bear in the country that is championing the cause of her fellow bears in the wild. "She's a fantastic educational tool, people come and see her, they're amazed to see a polar bear so close and enjoying herself and we always have as much educational information around the enclosure as possible, so just from that in itself we're educating people about why polar bears are endangered and what you can do to help. "
But despite being a mother twice before during her time at Edinburgh zoo, at the grand old age of 28 - that's about the equivalent of an 80 years old in human terms - Mercedes will not be involved in any further breeding. In the wild polar bears generally live into their early teens. In captivity, Mercedes is expected to reach at least 35.
Eventually the wildlife park hopes to be able to introduce a new male and female for breeding.
The polar bear is the world's largest land predator according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
In the Western Hudson Bay, where Mercedes came from, there has been 22% decline in the polar bear population since the early 1980s.
Conservationists believe this is directly related to ice break-up on Hudson Bay.
Barclay says that not only do we risk losing a high profile, much loved and charismatic creature, but we risk losing mammals at the top of the food chain.
"We as humans have had an impact on this planet. We've had a negative impact, so it's about time that we actually try and change our ways, even if it's turning off lights at night so that we can actually try and decrease our carbon footprint or do our best to educate people in conserving species, but also conserving the planet and habitats so that animals like the polar bears do actually have a future," he says.
The global wild population of polar bears is estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000.
Conservationists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm due to climate change, two-thirds of the world's polar bears could disappear by 2030.
In 2005, the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) classified polar bears as vulnerable on the IUCN World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species, noting that extinction could occur due to sea ice changes.
The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES is taking place in Qatar. Delegates at the U.N. conference are considering proposals on a range of species from rhinos to polar bears.

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