CULTURE & ARTS
03/18/2017 11:47 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2017

Haunting Photos Show Polar Bears In Captivity Around The World

“I found that the combinations of polar bears in man-made habitats look strange in almost every case on Earth."

A compelling photo series is challenging the way that humans look at and understand wild animals kept in captivity.

Photographer Sheng Wen Lo, who is from Taiwan but based in the Netherlands, began taking pictures of polar bears in zoos in 2014. The resulting photo series, titled “White Bear,” depicts bears in 26 different zoos throughout Europe and China.

A polar bear swims at Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands in 2016.
Sheng Wen Lo
A polar bear swims at Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands in 2016.

“The series is not about polar bears, but about captive wild animals on display, the dilemma between its intension and cost,” he said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post. “It is not about whether animals are suitable for captive programs, but rather about whether some animals are not the ideal species to be kept in captivity.”

Lo pairs his photos with a video project, “The March of the Great White Bear,” that highlights pacing behavior — typically seen as a sign of stress — in polar bears in several zoos.

His photos also explore the strangeness of habitat modifications that appear to be designed with human spectators in mind — like painting rocks white to mimic ice and snow, for instance.

“I found that the combinations of polar bears in man-made habitats look strange in almost every case on Earth,” he said. “I understand it is difficult to use a real iceberg but what is the point of just painting one instead?”

Lo said he got the idea after two experiences of seeing polar bears “eating grass” at a zoo in San Francisco and at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. While he did photograph the Bronx Zoo, the image didn’t make it into the final series.

A polar bear at the Bronx Zoo. This photo did not make it into the final "White Bear" series.
Sheng Wen Lo
A polar bear at the Bronx Zoo. This photo did not make it into the final "White Bear" series.

Lo made an effort not to seek out stereotypically “sad-looking” shots, he said. And he noted that he’s not against zoos as institutions.

“I do think that zoos and aquariums have positive potentials and modes, especially when they function as an educative shelter that take care of local, injured animals or those rejected by their mother or group,” he said.

“White Bear” will be on display at FORMAT Photo Festival in Derby, UK from March to April, Fotofestival Naarden from May 20 in the Dutch city of Naarden, and during the September OrganVida Photo Festival in Croatia.

  • Dalian forest Zoo, China (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Dalian forest Zoo, China (2015)
  • Aquazoo Friesland, Netherlands (2016)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Aquazoo Friesland, Netherlands (2016)
  • "Monde Sauvage", Aywaille, Belgium (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    "Monde Sauvage", Aywaille, Belgium (2014)
  • Diergaarde Blijdorp Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2016)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Diergaarde Blijdorp Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2016)
  • Nanjing Underwater World, China (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Nanjing Underwater World, China (2015)
  • Tierpark Hagenbeck, Germany (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Tierpark Hagenbeck, Germany (2014)
  • Wildlands, Emmen, Netherlands (2016)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Wildlands, Emmen, Netherlands (2016)
  • Wuppertal Zoo, Germany (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Wuppertal Zoo, Germany (2014)
  • Wuhan Haichang Polar Ocean World, China (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Wuhan Haichang Polar Ocean World, China (2015)
  • Beijing Zoo, China (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Beijing Zoo, China (2015)
  • Xi'an Qujian Polar Ocean Park, China (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Xi'an Qujian Polar Ocean Park, China (2015)
  • ZOOM Erlebniswelt, Gelsenkirchen, Germany (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    ZOOM Erlebniswelt, Gelsenkirchen, Germany (2014)
  • Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Scotland (2016)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Scotland (2016)
  • Zoo Berlin, Germany (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Zoo Berlin, Germany (2014)
  • Zoo Brno, Czech Republic (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Zoo Brno, Czech Republic (2014)
  • Harbin Polarland (2015)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Harbin Polarland (2015)
  • Zoo Praha, Czech Republic (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Zoo Praha, Czech Republic (2014)
  • Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven, Germany (2014)
    Sheng Wen Lo
    Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven, Germany (2014)
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