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Dane County Zoo Introduces New Polar Bears for "Arctic Passage" Exhibit

February 26, 2015
Stephanie Miller, 608-267-8823 Alison Prange, 608-258-9490
County Executive

Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo and the Friends of the Zoo today announced that they will welcome two and a half year-old polar bear twins to the zoo’s new Arctic Passage exhibit in time for its grand opening this summer.

The Henry Vilas Zoo is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) to bring the polar bears - Suka and Sakari - from the Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota to their new home in Arctic Passage.  After Suka and Sakari arrive, the Henry Vilas Zoo will house two of only 60 polar bears in AZA-accredited zoos in North America.

“We not only have winter weather that some days only polar bears can love, but soon our zoo will have one of the premier exhibits in the country to showcase these incredible animals,” County Executive Joe Parisi said.  “Building Arctic Passage and being one of only a few places with these bears speak directly to the priority we here in Dane County place on conservation, and taking better care of the place we call home.”

Arctic Passage is the largest expansion in the Zoo’s 104-year history, covering more than 1.7 acres.  It will provide guests with beautiful new, naturalistic environments for polar bears, grizzly bears and harbor seals.  These exhibits will enable zoo guests to see the seals swim underwater, the polar bears sleep in their den and a grizzly bear catch a fish from a stream.  The Arctic Passage also will feature special new education, conservation and sustainability features that continue the zoo’s leadership in these areas.

As a result, the exhibit is designed to meet or exceed the most stringent standards in bear care, which will allow the zoo to breed polar bears in the future. Before they reach breeding age, Suka and Sakari will be matched by the SSP with bears from other AZA institutions to ensure the most healthy cubs possible.

“This exhibit represents our vision for Henry Vilas Zoo’s future and also what AZA accredited zoos are doing as conservation organizations by not only providing the best possible care for our animals but by promoting how our guests can help their counterparts in the wild,” Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz said.  “This is the beginning of the next century of excellence in care and conservation for our zoo.”

“This year’s International Polar Bear Day is a day of great celebration as we get set to welcome our new polar bear twins to the zoo’s Arctic Passage in May,” said Alison Prange, executive director of the Friends of Henry Vilas Zoo.  “Bringing the bears back to the zoo truly has been a community effort.  We are grateful for the county’s support for the incredible Arctic Passage exhibit and thank the donors who have given generously to help make it a reality too.”

As part of Arctic Passage, the Zoo will soon have its first-ever indoor restaurant called “Glacier Grille.”  It will provide guests with stunning views of the polar bear yard and revenue from the restaurant will directly support the zoo.

The Arctic Passage exhibit is on schedule to open Memorial Day weekend.  Thanks to a funding partnership between Dane County and the Friends of the Zoo, only $270,000 is left to be raised for the Arctic Passage project.

This weekend, Henry Vilas Zoo will celebrate International Polar Bear Day at Anna Vilas Hall from 12:30 p.m. until 3:00 p.m.  Please visit our website at and help bring the bears back to Madison.




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