Rainy and cool weather notwithstanding, Minnesota Zoo members turned out for an after-hours event last night to welcome three new black bears and gain a sneak preview of the new exhibit. This Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m., Zoo Director and CEO Lee Ehmke will participate in a ceremonial ribbon cutting with students from Andover Elementary School, who brought an initiative to the state legislature wishing to get the black bear named the state mammal.
The new exhibit, located along the Medtronic Minnesota Trail, features three young bears who were orphaned near Leech Lake when they were cubs. Tiva and Syke, the males, and Kuruk are now approximately two-and-a-half years old. The new habitat is partly due to support from the Legacy Amendment Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the Minnesota Zoo Foundation, and it looks great. Much like the Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit, the enclosure’s design includes features that make it more like natural habitat than what one might associate with a zoo: a pool for bathing, trees to climb, a cave for napping (which also include a large window for an up-close view), and even hot rocks for bears to lounge upon during cold weather.
During my visit, I even learned a few facts about bears, including that black bear populations in America are fairly healthy. According to zoo information, there are twice as many black bears as all other bear species combined. Of course, black bears in Minnesota are normally associated with northern areas, including the Boundary Waters. I also learned that black bears will roam great distances in the fall to gather food to increase fat reserves for the winter. These bears were definitely on the move, making it hard to get a sharp photo. Dozens of visitors, each with camera in hand, gathered near the window to capture an image as one of the young bears passed back and forth just behind the glass. I overheard one zoo official in charge of caring for the bears tell a patron that the bear liked interacting with people, and the pacing was just a sign that he was excited. The bears make a great addition to the zoo, which continues to grow and change nearly every year. If you haven’t been in some time, I’d encourage you to visit soon.
A list of black bear exhibit opening day activities:
9 a.m. Minnesota Zoo Opens & Ribbon Cutting
10 a.m., Noon & 2 p.m. Black Bear Zookeeper Talks
11 a.m., 1 p.m. & 2:30 p.m. Animal Encountersâ€¨
11 a.m. & 2 p.m. “Tales Along the Minnesota Trail” Performance (limited seating)â€¨—a 35-minute interactive storytelling musical about two young friends who take a musical journey to meet some of the people and animals who’ve called Minnesota home.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Crafts and Face Painting
12:30 p.m. Black Bear, Loon & Walleye book reading by Author Sara Button