It’s no secret polar bears love water. In the United States, they’re actually classified as marine mammals. What’s funny is, although we know polar bears have an almost symbiotic relationship with water and ice, there hasn’t been a facility in the world built able to give polar bears more than just an a few acres of access to water…until now.
In fall of 2016 the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat opened the largest enclosure in the world, encompassing 5 hectares (almost 13 acres) of natural, deep, lake.
“The first time they went in there were definitely a few tears shed. It’s just so awe inspiring! To see them swim in such a huge space knowing there’s fish and wildlife is amazing, but even better is when they go out on the ice in winter, just like they do in the wild. They look so happy, like they’re supposed to be,” said Manager, Karen Cummings.
When visitors come to the Habitat, they can watch the bears from three different viewing areas cleared at different points along the over 4100’ of fence. Although it’s not as close as the other, smaller enclosures, the natural feel and look more than makes up for the distance. The bears sometimes disappear under the water for minutes at a time, resurfacing far from their dive position. Ganuk and Henry have sparred in the water in areas there’s no way they could touch bottom. When bears are rotated into having lake access, they can choose whether they want to be in the enclosure, or they can decide to stay closer to – or remain in their holding facility.
Although the bears sometimes swim for hours in the lake, Bear Keepers soon learned that one of their concerns – that the bears wouldn’t want to return to their smaller enclosures at the end of the day – didn’t materialize. “Just like kids, after playing all day they want to return “home” to Bear Holding, where they can sleep on their beds and see their family – their keepers,” said Cummings.
The Town of Cochrane is incredibly proud to have shown the world they’re serious about the conservation and welfare of this species at risk. Mayor, Peter Politis was on hand to do the opening honours by cutting the ribbon. “When the town originally created the Habitat, we always dreamed of this day. We knew we had something special, something that not only would help Cochrane, but do something more. We’re showing the world a town can make a difference in environmental conservation. We’re showing everyone they can make a difference and fight climate change. It’s not just a great thing, it’s the right thing.”
Written By: Karen Cummings