WINNIPEG – Assiniboine Park Zoo visitors haven’t seen polar bears in the new showpiece Journey to Churchill exhibit for two days after wolves dug their way into the bears’ space.
The wolves tunnelled under the barrier between the wolves and the polar bears on Monday night, which meant the zoo had to remove both species from the exhibit while they modified the space.
“They were quite happily co-existing,” said Don Peterkin, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy chief operations officer, pointing out the animals interact through a mesh barrier anyway. “There was really no issue.”
However, the zoo wants to prevent similar events in the future, so the bears and wolves were removed for two days and a concrete apron was poured in the area where the digging took place, Peterkin said.
The multimillion-dollar Journey to Churchill exhibit opened July 3 with media previews and special events during the first weekend. The zoo had closed for two weeks to prepare for the opening of the exhibit, which showcases the zoo’s four polar bears. It features underwater viewing areas in a large exhibit meant to replicate the experience of visiting Churchill, Man., which bills itself the polar bear capital of the world.
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While some zoo-goers were disappointed that they couldn’t see the feature exhibit in a zoo that has hiked prices to pay for the work, there are no plans to refund admission prices.
Zoo staff tried to tell people at the entrance, Peterkin said, and people chose to enter anyway.
“The experience over all was good,” said Brandi Smith, who missed out on seeing two of the bears. “We did have an opportunity to go a different day and maybe if we had know not everything was open we could have gone on the weekend.”
Storm and Hudson were on exhibit in the old bear enclosure and Hudson tends to spend most of his time in a highly visible area, he added.
There are no guarantees that people will see polar bears in the zoo, Peterkin said, pointing out that Manitoba regulations stipulate that animal enclosures must have areas where they can’t be seen.
“You’re not always going to see every animal,” he said.
The waterfall in the Churchill coast part of the exhibit also had a leak and needed to be patched, the conservancy said in a news release Wednesday morning.
“These kinds of adjustments are absolutely normal with the opening of any new exhibit, especially one this complex,” Peterkin said in a news release about the problems.
All exhibits are open again and all the Journey to Churchill animals are back in the exhibit, the news release said.
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