The bears were looking at us from across the enclosure, most likely 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 when he got up and wandered over to investigate. He was welcomed with lots of praise and treats which I’m sure made him all the more curious. As usual, Ganuk was much more reserved and chose to stay sitting by the waterfall. After quite a bit of calling and encouragement, he slowly loped across the enclosure, had cocked to one side, sniffing the air as he walked. Once both bears were by the gate it was time to give them access, for the very first time, to the largest polar bear enclosure in the word. A total of 12 acres, 8 of which consisting of a natural lake that in some parts is over 70 feet deep, was designed to give the bears the most naturally enriching and stimulating environment possible within the captive setting. Not only will they be surrounded by trees, grasses and natural substrates they will share their enclosure with other animal species. Foxes, beavers and a number of water birds naturally call this enclosure home, providing the bears with a smorgasbord 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 other habitat staff members, each snapping as many photos as possible and cheering him on. Meanwhile, Ganuk was still back by the gate, sniffing every inch of it and the ground just beyond, seemingly deciding 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 keeper stayed behind with him and as he walked, he would look back occasionally, then turn back with his nose leading the way.
Just as Ganuk reached an open sandy area where the trees part and the lake can be accessed, Henry was diving head first in. That dive brought on gasps and quiet cheers, as well as a few tears from those watching from the fence. 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 of chunks of moss from the bottom. When they finally did emerge from water they were met at the fence line by their keepers, providing them with small treats to ensure that the relationship between bear and keeper was maintained.
Keepers remained with the bears while they continued to explore their new surroundings. A constant chatter between keepers and staff observing from the cameras inside was maintained. From many areas around the fence line the bears were out of view due to densely wooded areas and thick cat tails and that is when the mounted camera was used to monitor their whereabouts.
After about 5 hours of exploration, Henry made his way back to enclosure A and settled down on his favorite rock around the pool. Ganuk followed half an hour later and it became clear to the keepers that they were not going anywhere until they were fed. After a large feed the bears spent the remainder of the day close to bear holding and enclosure A, followed by a night of very restful sleep.