A modern and more spacious polar bear exhibit opens today at St. Paul's Como Zoo.
The Polar Bear Odyssey is seven times larger than the old space, but still offers close-up views of the bears.
Senior zookeeper Allison Jungheim says the new pad will result in better experiences for the bears and visitors. Jungheim says so far, the twin polar bears Neil and Buzz have enjoyed soaking in the more shallow of two saltwater pools.
"The other one is actually a 16-feet diving pool, and Neil does his patented backstroke in there as well," Jungheim said. "We're looking forward to having the public get up close and personal with them, because I think it's amazing to see a paw press up against the glass and have a kid have their hand right up on it, too."
Jungheim says the old exhibit, built in 1984, was considered state-of-the-art at the time it debuted. But over the years, many visitors complained that the bears didn't have enough space.
The new space cost more than $15 million, and took two years to build. Zoo officials say they hope a new polar bear exhibit will help them tell the story of climate change and conservation.
Jungheim said she thinks the exhibit will encourage visitors to do their part to help polar bears in the wild by reducing their carbon footprints.
"We hope to get a breeding pair of polar bears. But polar bears in the wild are not doing that well due to the change in the climate," she said. "The more we can do for them in zoos, and teach the public and visitors about it, the more we can provide for them in the wild as well."
Neil and Buzz were sent to the Detroit Zoo during construction and returned to Como in April.