'World's saddest polar bear' moved from cramped exhibit in Chinese shopping mall

'At last he will feel the sun on his fur, sniff fresh air and see the sky above him in the company of his mum and dad'

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The "world's saddest polar bear" has been temporarily removed from a cramped glass-walled exhibit in a Chinese shopping mall after pressure from animal rights groups.

Pizza, the three-year-old polar bear, became the focus of global media attention when he was filmed looking visibly distressed as tourists crowded around his exhibit to take photographs.

"Pizza the polar bear will temporarily leave Guangzhou" and return to his birthplace, the Grandview Mall Aquarium said on its official account on WeChat, a popular mobile-based Chinese social media platform.

The post said the move was part of ongoing upgrades and "minor alterations" to the mall and the aquarium would remain open during Pizza's absence.

'World's saddest polar bear'

Chinese media reports said he was returning to the facility where he was born in captivity, in the northern port of Tianjin.

Animal rights groups have called for the move to be made permanent, arguing conditions are unsuitable.

“Pizza the polar bear has endured a life of deprivation and suffering in his small, artificial glass-fronted room at the shopping mall," Peter Li, a campaigner at Humane Society International, said. 

"But we implore the Mall to make this a permanent move for Pizza and to not condemn him to return.

"At last he will feel the sun on his fur, sniff fresh air and see the sky above him in the company of his mum and dad."

He added: "No amount of renovation could ever make a shopping mall a suitable place for this animal, and to send him back now would be cruel and heartless."

In October, Humane Society International and three Chinese animal rights gruops called for the mall to be closed, saying footage of Pizza's pacing and head swaying behaviour were evidence of mental decline.

Yorkshire Wildlife Park in Doncaster previously offered a new home to the bear, but the aquarium's manager refused calls for the transfer.