They’re face to face with the biggest land predator on the face of the Earth – but these kids have nothing to fear.
Bjorn the polar bear is a friendly sort, and his handler Ursula was by his side to explain the facts about his majestic kind to youngsters at Newcastle’s Great North Museum.
The bear – created by secretive puppeteers Los Kaos and carrying his belongings in a suitcase on his back – will give three free performances today at the popular vistor attraction.
Ursula said: “He’s not remotely house-trained and he’s pretty messy. But we’ve had a happy life together. I found him as a little cub when he was probably about six-years-old, so I’ve been with him ever since.
“It’s great to give people an opportunity to meet animals that they wouldn’t normally be able to meet and as he’s a very friendly bear.
“We’re very lucky to have him and to spread awareness.
“Polar bears are massively endangered by climate change. There’s only 20,000 left in the wild, and we think that by the end of the century there may well not be any left at all because their world is getting smaller.”
After posing for the crowd, Bjorn took a lap of honour round the barrier as kids stretched their hands through to touch and pat him.
The two-metre-long beast seemed to enjoy the attention, wrinkling his eyes in pleasure and tossing his head – as well as accidentally stepping on the toe of 11-year-old Mitchell Scott.
The pupil at Shotton Hall Academy in Peterlee said: “I was extremely surprised, because I didn’t think it would be that realistic. It felt like it had real fur – even its nose was wet.
“The way it acted as well – the way it was moving and interacting with people. It was an experience I don’t think we’ll forget.”
His younger brother Finlay, six, from Howletch Primary School, said: “I was almost scared.”
And their grandfather Lawrie Slater, 67, said their initial expectations were hugely surpassed by the lifelike creation that drew massive crowds at the museum yesterday. He said : “Sometimes the build-up to these things is so fantastic and then you get really disappointed by reality. It was the opposite with this.”
Ursula said: “The kids have all been wonderfully well-behaved. This is not something that happens every day – it’s a bit of a magical experience – so they’re just generally gleeful.”
Museum manager Dr Sarah Glynn said: “When Bjorn enters the room you can hear the gasps of amazement from people as he is such an authentic representation of a polar bear. Seeing him is a goose-pimple-inducing experience.”