Could it be we are nearing the end of our fantastic remodel of the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge at the San Diego Zoo? Anyone who has remodeled their home knows the joys and dilemmas that improvement brings. Most of the work that impacted our bears was completed last fall with the building of our management yard and the experience wall.
The bears love the wall area, and with all the great rain we’ve had, the yard is thick with green grass. In fact, we’ve begun calling the yard Polar Bear Park! We did, however, want to do some remodeling in the exhibit: remove some of the deadwood to make viewing easier. We set about renting a huge crane to come and lift the wood out and move the huge root balls, but…
The project started when we brought all three bears in for the afternoon and night while we cut through all the metal thread that held everything together, cut the wood into smaller, more manageable pieces, and basically prepared all for fast work the next morning. Everything needed to be done by 9 a.m. so the crane would not block the road.
We were all in an hour early; we made sure the bears were all fed and happy with new beds or enrichment and then set up for the crane. The crane arrived early but, OH NO! The hydraulic line broke! The crane was out of commission. Now what? We can’t let the bears on exhibit—it was too dangerous with all the loose logs. In steps teamwork!
One of our animal care managers got a bobcat tractor while ropes, chains, pry bars, and determination were gathered. For the next two hours logs were pulled off and out with loud crashes and moved into better positions. The polar bears’ “living room” took on a whole new look. By 9 a.m. we had everything done and secure so our trio could come out and assess our work. We expected lots of curiosity from them, but they took a look, a sniff, and went off to their carrot piles! We will be doing a bit more work before the grand re-opening on March 26, including removing one more root ball and filling part of the center shelter area with sand for another sleeping area.
There is also a return of that wonderful “sllluuurrrrrrpppppp” sound every day from Kalluk. What does this mean? As we are beginning to understand, scent is an integral part of polar bear communication. Just as breeding season begins, Kalluk busies himself with smelling everywhere Chinook has stepped. He flattens his nose and mouth to the floor and slurp-inhales with all he’s got to assess where Chinook may be in her approach to breeding season. We now are seeing him less and less away from her as he has become her shadow. This year, he seems to be less anxious about it, perhaps after last year he has gained some maturity and confidence. In the past few days we have begun to see Chinook become more flirtatious with him, and she often adds a nice face rub to her greetings to him. She rarely goes anywhere now without her 1,000-pound shadow!
Tatqiq is beginning to be an outcast, but she also seems to have gained some confidence. She is not backing down from Chinook but instead stands in place and offers behaviors that neutralize Chinook’s advances. Every day we do offer all our bears the opportunity to show us what they need, and so far everyone still wants to be together. We are really happy that when it comes time to give someone a break, they get to spend it in the new Polar Bear Park!
When you come to visit after re-opening on March 26, you will be able to see through the exhibit and look on the hill and see our bears in their lush, green park.
JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Oh So Busy.
Watch video of the new statues and interactive elements being moved into place at Polar Bear Plunge.