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SAN DIEGO – Animal rights activists are asking SeaWorld not to send one of the park’s two polar bears to get impregnated at the Pittsburgh Zoo because they believe it will break the heart of her longtime companion.

SeaWorld announced plans to send Snowflake to the Pittsburgh Zoo for a breeding visit with a male polar bear named Koda. The visit is part of a Species Survival Plan developed in 1981 to breed species that are threatened or endangered in the wild, marine park officials said.

On Thursday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sent a letter to the CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment asking the park to cancel the plan.

“We urge you to cancel this cruel plan, which would leave Snowflake’s companion of 20 years, Szenja, sad and alone and would also sentence any cubs who are born subsequently to a lifetime of confinement for public display,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote. “At a time when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it will close and you have recognized that your orca-breeding program must end because of public outrage, it has never been clearer that people do not support keeping animals in captivity and using them for entertainment. Snowflake and Szenja have already been deprived of everything that’s natural and important to them—please do not add to their suffering and sentence more polar bears to a dismal fate by moving forward with this ill-conceived plan.”

SeaWorld responded with a public statement defending the breeding program. It said, in part:

“…since 2008, the polar bear has been listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  This polar bear breeding effort keeps SeaWorld and the Pittsburgh Zoo at the forefront of wildlife conservation and education, and further demonstrates our commitment to conserve species in peril.”

Park officials said that polar bears are typically solitary animals in the wild and Szenja will cared for by the SeaWorld animal car team while Snowflake is in Pittsburgh.

It was not immediately clear when Snowflake was scheduled to travel or how long she would remain in Pittsburgh.