The Gold Award was presented by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) for the park’s Project Polar initiative which created a unique 10-acre reserve which is home to four male polar bears.
The award recognises the excellence of the park’s work in establishing the large, naturalistic polar bear reserve with dens, pools and rolling landscapes. The park’s enclosure, one of the largest in the world, is home to Victor, Pixel, Nissan and Nobby.
“It is fantastic to receive the award for something we care passionately about and work hard at,” said Simon Marsh, animal collections manager at the park, based at Branton, near Doncaster.
“We wanted to show that polar bears in our care can be kept to a very high standard and address all their welfare and husbandry needs.”
Polar bears are classed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and the Polar Bear Specialist Group acknowledge the need for a healthy captive polar bear population.
The park, which has grown from 66,000 annual visitors when opened in 2009 to a record 761,000 last year, works with international conservation agencies and academic institutions to study polar bears and increase their chances of survival as their natural Arctic habitats are reduced by global warming.
The project was also praised for sourcing local materials and suppliers during construction and for effectively creating a landscape - with 900 mature Scots pines, silver birch, willow and heathers - that replicates the Arctic tundras. The reserves also provide shade and 8-metre deep lakes to keep cool while visitors can observe the bears from a raised walkway with panoramic views.
“Project Polar has been a success, not only for the polar bears in our care but for promoting good animal and polar bear welfare across zoos and BIAZA members. We have shown that polar bears can be kept well in captivity and the conservation and educational importance of keeping polar bears in a zoo environment,” added Mr Marsh.
Kirsten Pullen, CEO of BIAZA, said, “Our annual awards ceremony recognizes excellence.
"Our community is committed to conservation, education, research, and having the highest levels of animal welfare and this is highlighted by the incredibly high standard of award submissions this year. I am delighted that the Yorkshire Wildlife Park has achieved a Gold award for Project Polar.”