St. Louis Zoo officials have set up electronic polar bear proxies in their currently vacant exhibit, and reactions have run the gamut from the confusion of children to celebration by PETA. The electronic polar bears will be featured in the zoo’s upcoming holiday Wild Lights exhibit, but the dark side of the matter is that they are a grave reminder of the dead polar bears who formerly resided in their place. Let’s hope the electronic versions fare better than their endangered counterparts on the zoo’s watch.

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Deceased polar bears of the St. Louis zoo include Hope, who was euthanized in March of this year due to liver cancer, and Churchill and Penny who died in May 2005 — Churchill during stomach surgery to remove a fatal helping of cloth and plastic he ate inside his bin, and Penny from an infection — and she had been pregnant with two cubs which was ascertained by zoo officials only after her death.

The layers of social commentary on the installation of fake polar bears at the St. Louis zoo are endless. Polar bears have become iconic imagery with relation to the effects of global warming. Could this be a grim glimpse into what the future holds for zoo exhibits — electronic animals in place of an extinct species? This reality may not be far off for future generations, as only 81 polar bears remain in American zoos.

PETA announces that they “couldn’t be more thrilled” with the St. Louis Zoo’s new fake polar bear exhibition. While there’s no word on whether officials will keep the bear-y merry installation up once the holidays are over, PETA hopes they invest in animatronic versions that look and act like the real thing, while leaving the majestic creatures to roam free in their wild habitat.