The latest addition to the landscape of the Lincoln Park Zoo is the new Walter Family Arctic Tundra Exhibit, designed by Interactive Design Architects in collaboration with exhibit designers, The Portico Group. This exhibit opening is the latest of a long series of successful IDEA projects going back more than two decades. With the return of polar bears, the Zoo hopes not only to entertain visitors, but to raise awareness of the need to conserve the bears’ natural habitat, now threatened by human impacts resulting in climate change.
The new outdoor exhibit space provides over 8,300 square feet of rocky terrain, along with a stream and waterfall spilling into a 49,000 gallon pool. The pool varies in depth, presenting the bears with a variety of opportunities to play, swim, and dive. The exhibit includes a 10 ft. by 10 ft. training wall, which allows the zookeepers to keep the bears mentally stimulated, essential for their well-being. For the warmer months, the exhibit is equipped with a commercial ice machine that can churn out shaved ice to help the bears cool off.
The underwater viewing area has a water level at 4.5 feet, allowing visitors to see above and under water simultaneously. The variety of viewing options also includes views into the ice cave, training wall, and open air areas through expansive windows that allow for immersive and intimate encounters with the bears.
Siku, a 7 year old 1000 pound male polar bear makes his public debut in the opening of the Arctic Tundra exhibit. Siku has shown a playful disposition that will no doubt be endearing to future visitors. He will be joined by a female bear later, in what the zoo hopes will be a successful breeding program. A behind the scenes denning area allows the new family to bond and grow before venturing out into the public areas. The exhibit is designed so it can be divided, to allow mother and cubs to be apart from Siku as needed for the safety of the cubs.