The San Diego Zoological Society has a prestigious history caring for polar bears, the first having arrived in 1917. By 1926 the park had built one of the world's first barless enclosures, and in 1996 they moved their gentle giants over to their current home at the very top of the park. That exhibit was beginning to show its age and so upgrades were designed, funds were raised, and the changes were implemented. The polar bears are still the central focus of course, and it's easier than ever to view them and watch them interact with keepers. Nonetheless, there are now a half-dozen new props and features around the central viewing area.
The new features are geared mostly toward children and families, although there's interesting information for environmentalists and some cute shots for photographers. Gigantic storybooks through which kids can flip, a polar bear den into which they can crawl, and an arctic research helicopter for photo ops. Conservationthe central focus of the Zoological Society's missiongets heavy and repeated emphasis. There are displays showing how arctic ice is receding and a three-dimensional carbon graph charting skyrocketing global CO2 emissions. As with some of the zoos other exhibits, there are educators on hand to answer questions and handle the displays.
Tori and Dean take the kids to the zoo
The event itself went off without a hitch, which is what you'd expect from an organization that knows how to keep polar bearsto say nothing of lions, bears, giraffes, rhinos, etcalive and kicking. Local media was out in full force, though some seemed more interested in the invited celebrities than in the big white fluffy things across the glass. Tori Spelling, husband Dean McDermott, and their kids were out in the nice San Diego sun for a more or less normal day at the zoo. Actual wisdom whispered by Dean to the kids as one of the bears approached the interaction wall: "wow, females are pretty." Awww!
Back to the animals: The upgraded exhibit has a new "experience wall," which is a mesh wire break in the glass. Keepers use the wall to interact with the bears, feeding them and showing visitors how the animals are cared for. It turns out that the bears may or may not approach the experience wall when they're beckoned with food. There's fun in the rest of the exhibit, and they seem to enjoy pressing their faces into the glass with curiousity.
Walk a little past the experience wall and there are plenty of other enclosures housing other arctic animals, from reindeer to exotic birds. Every part of the exhibit is designed to bring you nose-to-nose with the different animals. If you like that sort of thing. You know, being inches away from giant polar bears.
[Photo: Omri Ceren / Jaunted]