The Saint Louis Zoo brings visitors nose-to-nose with a swimming polar bear and offers new insights into the lives of polar bears and the Arctic people who rely on them through its new $16 million, 40,000-square-foot McDonnell Polar Bear Point exhibit that opened to the public Saturday, June 6, 2015.
Visitor Note: Kali the polar bear is expected to make his appearance around 9 a.m. daily. From 8-9 a.m. the zookeepers are working hard to prepare his habitat, which involves providing Kali his breakfast, cleaning the pools and windows, and adding enrichment such as ice, logs and toys. Thank you for your patience and we hope you enjoy McDonnell Polar Bear Point!
A State-of-the-Art Habitat
Polar Bear Point transitions seamlessly from sea to coastline to land. The "sea" area features an arctic cave room with an expansive glass viewing wall where visitors can peer deeply into the 50,000-gallon Polar Dive Pool. This large glass panel also offers a split view into and across the pool and on to Bear Beach, created with sand, pebbles and rock formations.
The moraine or "coastline" offers a scenic view that includes carved rock made to look as if it were formed by glaciers. It also features a large panoramic view with nine curved, faceted glass panels spanning 55 feet and offering a view of Bear Beach.
The grassy "tundra" area provides a unique polar bear interaction area, where visitors can observe bear behavior up close at a glass/mesh door as keepers offer enrichment or go through training exercises with the bear(s). This observation area is in the center of a seven-panel, 48-foot curved, panoramic glass viewing wall.
Room to Grow
The habitat can accommodate up to five bears in the future—ideally an adult male and female bear, who would head up a family of one to three cubs. It more than doubles the space of the old polar bear area, which had been home to Zoo polar bears from the 1920s until 2009.
The Bear Market
Bear-themed items are available in a new gift shop as guests enter or leave McDonnell Polar Bear Point. Zoo stores carry native arts, handmade crafts, t-shirts and plush toys. Gift store products also carry messages about the ways each of us can reduce our carbon footprint.
At McDonnell Polar Bear Point, the Zoo is offering information about the plight of the polar bear and the role polar bears play in the lives of Alaska Native people through interpretive materials. Visitors can see objects that would be present in traditional Alaskan villages—from boats to snowmobiles. In video interviews, which will play on monitors along an interactive wall, Alaska Natives will share information about their relationship with nature—particularly with polar bears—and how their lives are changing as ice continues to decrease in quantity and quality due to climate change.
A separate space dedicated to the animals, staff and life support systems, the 2,651-square-foot Care Center provides advanced care and management for marine mammals. It includes a splash den with a pool, three additional dens and a polar maternity suite that can hold a pair of bears and also cubs when breeding is recommended and successful.
In addition, a 1,000-square-foot outdoor, off-exhibit space (Polar Patio)—an area the bear(s) can use when he needs privacy—includes a pool with a surface area of 530 square feet.
Life Support Building
Adjacent to the Care Center is a 3,032-square-foot facility that houses the life support system for the polar bear’s salt water pools. This state-of-the-art system recirculates and treats exhibit water providing a closed loop design to conserve water.
Throughout Polar Bear Point, the Zoo employed sustainable design and construction to increase the amount of recycled materials used, including the concrete from the historic bear pits that was crushed on site and reused as sub-base and backfill. An automated, energy-efficient system was installed for heating, cooling and ventilation. To offset energy use at the habitat, the Zoo is purchasing carbon credits that help preserve Makira Natural Park, a 1,438-square-mile rainforest in Madagascar.
The Zoo’s sustainable practices are aimed at reducing its carbon footprint to help stall the impact of climate change, which causes sea ice to melt, and the Zoo hopes to encourage similar conservation behaviors among visitors to Polar Bear Point.
The First Resident
The first occupant of this exhibit is Kali (pronounced "Cully”), a 2 ½ year-old, 850-pound male polar bear that was orphaned in Alaska. In March 2013, the orphaned bear was turned over to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) by an Alaska Native hunter who killed Kali’s mother in a subsistence hunt without realizing the mother had a cub. USFWS determined that St. Louis would be the bear’s permanent home, working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP).
Thanks to our Sponsors
McDonnell Polar Bear Point is made possible by many fine donors, with the leadership gift from the JSM Charitable Trust, Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III and Mr. and Mrs. John F. McDonnell. The Polar Bear Interaction Area is a gift from The Bellwether Foundation. Carolyn and Jay Henges’ generous contribution is recognized at the Carolyn and Jay Henges Splash Pool View. Dennis and Judy Jones' contribution has been recognized at the Judy and Dennis Jones Family Cave View. McDonnell Polar Bear Point is also one of the most exciting of many projects funded by the Zoo’s The Living Promise Campaign. Generous donors provided $134 million in charitable commitments, $14 million over the Campaign goal, and made possible a range of improvements and new exhibits at the Zoo.