Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo announced Wednesday that two new residents will be moving in as soon as their home in the zoo’s new Arctic Passage Exhibit is finished.
Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz said the new residents are two grizzly bears who are currently at the Bismark’s Dakota Zoo, in North Dakota.
The bears were born in the wild, and their mother and grandmother were nuisance bears, which mean they were too comfortable being around people. They broke into campsites, and the grandmother had to be relocated 11 times to keep her away from people.
Then the grandmother broke into and raided a pig farm and became too dangerous. Officials euthanized the mother and grandmother, leaving four cubs behind.
Madison will be helping the zoo in North Dakota out by taking two of the cubs. The bears don’t have names yet, but zoo officials hope the community will help them out with that.
“We designed our grizzly bear exhibit so we could tell the story of human-bear contact, and sometimes you think you can help, but feeding the bears is sometimes the worst thing you could do,” Schwetz said.
She said the exhibit will be a teaching opportunity.
The addition of the two cubs next year will be the first time in years zoo visitors will get to see grizzly bears in Madison.
“These two girls are 3 years old. They are young. They are energetic. They will be tons of fun to watch,” Schwetz said. “This is their new home. The far wall of the exhibit is the den where they can go to sleep at night.”
The zoo is still raising money for the 1.7-acre Arctic Passage Exhibit.
“We are in the public part of the campaign. We have $700,000 left to raise, and to kick us off we’ve had an anonymous donor come forward and he will donate $50,000,” the executive director of the Friends of the Zoo, Alison Prange, said. “If the community can help us raise $100,000, and our goal is to do that by the end of October, we’ve had tremendous support from around Madison and we’re looking for a little bit more.”
Zoo officials hope to open the Arctic Passage Exhibit next summer. The new exhibit will also house polar bears and harbor seals.
“We are going to move our harbor seals out of the center of the zoo to that building. That will be nice; the first time visitors to the zoo will be able to see harbor seals swimming underwater,” Schwetz said. “We’re considered cutting-edge in the design of our Arctic Passage with sustainability features, with an underwater storage tank that will save us over 2 million gallons of water each year, and we couldn’t have done without Joe Parissi and the community and the Friends of the Zoo pulling together.”