Zoo plans expansion of polar bear exhibit

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Zoo plans to upgrade and expand its polar bear exhibit, with work scheduled to begin this summer on the $8 million project.

The expansion will triple the current space, KTUU reported.

The two-phase project includes plans for a transition center for orphaned or injured cubs, a maternity den and new public viewing area.

The first phase will include a cub transition center and the maternity den, according to zoo executive director Pat Lampi.

The second phase will double the zoo’s capacity for adult bears, with a braided water stream and upgrades to the yard. Also included will be construction of a large, elevated walkway for visitors.

The expansion will allow the zoo to care for as many as six cubs.

The zoo has a five-year permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to orphaned cubs. It’s the only such permit issued in the nation.

“We’re very pleased that they entrust us with that,” Lampi said.

According to zoo officials, there has been an increase in orphaned cubs from the North Slope. Lampi said that with increases in Arctic activity and changing sea ice, his facility wants to be ready.

“We’re looking toward the future — not knowing what’s happening on the North Slope, but indications are that the ice will be forcing more bears on land and forcing more interactions with people,” which can result in more orphans and injuries, Lampi said.

The zoo has about $1.4 million raised for the first phase, which is expected to total $1.87 million and be completed by next year. The second phase is scheduled to begin in 2016.

The project is expected to be completed by 2017.

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