The Minnesota Zoo completed a five-year, $76 million series of improvement projects on Saturday by opening a new home for black bears to the public.
Zoo officials say three black bears are acclimating to a new, bigger home that has trees, a pool and a cave.
Zoo Director and CEO Lee Ehmke says the 2 1/2-year-old bears, which were found in the Leech Lake area as orphan cubs, now act like siblings and sleep in one big pile at night.
Ehmke added that the viewing areas for visitors to the exhibit are more discreet than in the past.
"The people are kind of intruders in the bears' world, as it were," he said. "So the bears have the option of coming up and interacting with people, but they can also go off and find places to be by themselves if they like. And they're choosing to be close to the people, which is great."
Ehmke says the unveiling of the black bear exhibit marks the completion of a five-year private and public fundraising campaign to rebuild some exhibits and add features to the zoo.
He says the zoo is now working on a 15-year facilities master plan.
"We've got this amazing 485-acre site, which is one of the biggest zoos spatially in the country," Ehmke said, "a lot of which hasn't been developed yet. So we have opportunities to expand as well as to retool some of the existing exhibits closer in to the core of the zoo."
Ehmke hopes to unveil the facilities master plan in November after it has been approved by the zoo board.
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