September 21, 2016
The bears were looking at us from across the Arctic Enclosure. I imagined they were wondering what this big group of people with their cameras were doing, standing in a seemingly uninteresting corner of the fence line. Henry’s curiosity soon got the best of him, and he got up and walked over to investigate. He was welcomed with excitement, praise and food reinforcement from the animal care staff, which no doubt made him all the more curious. As usual, Ganuk was much more reserved and chose to stay sitting back by the waterfall. Although, after quite a bit of encouragement, he slowly lumbered across the enclosure, head cocked to one side, sniffing the air as he walked. Once both bears were by the gate it was time to give them access to the largest polar bear enclosure in the world, for the very first time.
The Davis enclosure encompasses 21 acres of natural, subarctic boreal forest which includes a 10 acre spring-fed lake. This enclosure was designed to give the bears the most naturally enriching and stimulating environment possible within the human care environment. Not only will they be surrounded by trees, grasses and natural substrates, they will share their enclosure with other wild animal species. Foxes, otters, beavers and a number of water birds naturally call this enclosure home, providing the bears with a plethora of new sights, smells and tastes.
Henry watched as the locks were taken off the gate but was startled when all of a sudden, it opened! Prior to this moment, both bears had walked past this gate with no idea that one day, they may walk through it. Being the younger and much more adventurous of the two, Henry was the first to pass through the gate. He stopped to sniff it for a few seconds but was soon on his way, nose in the air, taking in his new surroundings. Eagerly following him were his keepers and all the rest of the habitat staff, each snapping as many photos as possible and quietly cheering him on. Meanwhile, Ganuk was still back by the gate, sniffing every inch of it and the ground just beyond, appearing to decide whether or not to enter. After a minute or so, he tentatively stepped through and followed a similar path to what Henry had taken. One of us had stayed behind with him for encouragement, and while he looked back occasionally, he continued on with his nose leading the way.
Just as Ganuk reached the open sandy area where the trees part and the lake can be easily accessed, Henry dived in head first. This dive brought on gasps and quiet cheers from onlookers, as well as a few tears of joy. Just like when entering the enclosure, Henry swam into the middle of the lake without an ounce of caution. Ganuk soon followed and they swam together, exploring the cat tails around the bank and diving down to pick up chunks of vegetation from the bottom. When they finally did emerge from water, they were met at the fence by their keepers, providing them with food reinforcements.
After about 5 hours of exploration, Henry made his way back to the Arctic enclosure and settled down on his favorite rock around the pool. Ganuk followed about half an hour later and it became clear to their keepers that they were not going anywhere until they were fed. After a large meal, both bears chose to spend the remainder of the day in the Arctic enclosure, followed by a very restful night's sleep.