Paint the polar bear purple and the crowds will come.
That seems to be the lesson a zoo in Mendoza has learned, after its 23-year-old bear Pelusa was sprayed with an antiseptic spray that turned her normally white fur a dark shade of violet.
The unusual color – a temporary side effect of the treatment for dermatitis – has turned the aging bear into a minor celebrity in Argentina and prompted thousands of schoolchildren and tourists to make their way to the Jardin Zoologico de Mendoza in the western city beneath the snow-capped Andes.
“We never thought she would get all the attention she’s now receiving,” veterinarian Alberto Duarte told The Associated Press when reached by telephone in Mendoza, 640 miles west of Buenos Aires. “We’ve had calls from Spain and e-mails from around the world asking about the bear.”
The newspaper Los Andes, of Mendoza, reported that Pelusa’s new look has turned her into the zoo’s most popular attraction, surpassing giraffes Tommy and Belen.
The spray applied to Pelusa is similar to one used by pediatricians to treat children’s scraped knees or lab technicians to stain micro-organisms for examination under microscopes.
Pelusa, a 395-pound bear has been temporarily placed in a cage because of the treatment, and is separated from her mate, Arturo. She is also kept back a distance from the public.
The separation, Duarte said, was needed to keep Pelusa from taking her regular plunge into an icy pool of water at the polar bear compound. That would have washed away the medicine prematurely, he said.
The isolation has not seemed to bother Pelusa but it has left Arturo, a 16-year-old male almost double the weight of his mate, a bit grumpy, Duarte said.
After all, the two – who have been together for years – have been kept apart for 20 days.
“The only one a bit anxious is Arturo, but they’ll be back together soon,” Duarte said. “Pelusa’s condition is improving and in one more week we will stop with the antiseptic and she’ll again be able to take her normal baths.”
He added that once Pelusa begins to swim again, “she will lose her violet color” quickly.
Until then, though, she’ll have to endure the crowds peering into her pen and possibly even the occasional paparazzi looking to snap a shot or two.