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Calgary Zoo hints at potential new polar bear exhibit within 4 years

The Calgary Zoo is hinting at a possible return of polar bears to the lineup of animals available for patrons to see.

Officials with the zoo were, along with many of Calgary’s other civic partners, presenting business plans and budgets to council’s Priority and Finance Committee on Monday.

On the zoo’s to do list are some major capital projects including a “significant new anchor carnivore exhibit in the Canadian Wilds” which is estimated to cost $17 million, and is scheduled for 2021-22.

The bullet point noted the animal would be an “iconic specimen with (a) strong conservation message.”

Although they didn’t spell it out, there are few carnivores in Canada that tick all those boxes, and the polar bear is the most likely candidate.

The Canadian Wilds exhibit at the zoo already has grizzly and black bears, along with wolves, and cougars, which are the major large predators naturally found in Canada.

As well as being an iconic symbol of Canada’s north, the polar bear has become a poster child for the negative effects of climate change. Scientists say the animal’s habitat is threatened by a marked reduction in year-round sea ice in the Canadian Arctic.

The zoo previously suggested polar bears would be part of its long-term plan. In 2013, CBC and other local media outlets reported that Calgary Zoo CEO Clement Lanthier said polar bears were on the list of animals the zoo was hoping to obtain in its 20 year plan. That plan also included phasing out Prehistoric Park, which is full of animatronic dinosaurs.

When contacted today, zoo spokeswoman Larissa Mark noted that the capital projects listed on that powerpoint presentation are still subject to vetting and review by the zoo’s board.

LiveWire asked for a copy of the powerpoint presentation that had been shared at the public meeting and broadcast on the city’s website. Mark said it could not be shared.

“Unfortunately, today’s presentation can’t be shared publicly as our board needs to review some aspects within it,” she said in an email.

The Zoo’s last polar bear, named Misty, died in 1999.