Animal rights groups urge China mall to permanently return 'saddest' polar bear home

A polar bear named "Pizza" inside her enclosure at the Grandview Shopping Mall in Guangzhou on Oct 28, 2016.
A polar bear named "Pizza" inside her enclosure at the Grandview Shopping Mall in Guangzhou on Oct 28, 2016.PHOTO: AFP/HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Animal rights groups have called for the permanent return home of "the saddest polar bear in the world" on display in a shopping mall in southern China after the mall aquarium announced the bear would temporarily be moved during an upgrade.

The three-year-old female polar bear, named Pizza, has become a focus of global media attention since Hong Kong-based Animal Asia posted in July an online video of the bear lying on her side in a glass-walled enclosure in the city of Guangzhou.

"Pizza the polar bear will temporarily leave Guangzhou and return to her birthplace," the Grandview Mall Aquarium said on its official account on WeChat, a popular mobile-based Chinese social media platform.

The move was part of ongoing upgrades and "minor alterations" to the mall and the aquarium would remain open during Pizza's absence, the post on Sunday (Nov 13) said.

It did not say when Pizza, widely dubbed online "the saddest polar bear in the world", was expected to return from the move to a zoo in the north-eastern city of Tianjin.

Animal right groups have called for the move to be made permanent, saying that conditions in the mall are unsuitable.

Sending Pizza back after her return home would be "cruel and heartless", Mr Peter Li, a campaigner at Humane Society International, said in a statement. "No amount of renovation could ever make a shopping mall a suitable place for this animal", he said.

In October, Humane Society International along with three Chinese animal rights groups called for the mall to be closed, saying that footage of Pizza's pacing and head swaying behaviour were evidence of mental decline.