Wolves dig into polar bear enclosure at Journey to Churchill exhibit
Assiniboine Zoo temporarily closed parts of the Journey to Churchill exhibit for repairs Tuesday, July 8, five days after it opened.
The zoo said the barrier that separates the wolves from the polar bears needed to be fixed after the wolves dug underneath it.
And a waterfall within the exhibit experienced a small leak that required concrete patching.
Zoo staff found all five wolves walking around the female polar bear enclosure Tuesday morning.
Don Peterkin, chief of operations at the zoo, said both female bears were sleeping in the corner at the time.
Laine Robson brought a guest from out of town to the zoo, only to find the main attractions weren't there.
“The whole big draw of us going to see the zoo was going to see the polar bears so it was really disappointing that they weren't there,” said Robson.
Instead of polar bears, some guests saw a scuba diver cleaning the underwater tunnel and others saw workers inside the enclosures.
Zoo staff said they closed the female polar bear area for the two days because they needed to repair the leak in the waterfall as well as fix the wall between the bears' and wolves' enclosures.
Some guests wish they'd known the exhibit was closed before getting to the empty enclosure and suggest staff could give guests notice before they pay admission.
The cost of admission has nearly doubled at the zoo with the Journey to Churchill exhibit opened.
On Thursday, July 10, zoo officials said the work had been completed and all exhibits re-opened.
Peterkin said all the animals are physically well and don't seem disrupted by the interaction.
He said the entire enclosure is separated by a 10-foot concrete wall that also goes deep into the ground so there is no danger to the public of animals escaping.
Polar bears and wolves interact in the wild around Churchill.
Peterkin said in the wild wolf packs sometimes kill newborn polar bears, but don't attack larger bears.
The zoo’s polar bears who were in the enclosure, Aurora and Kaska, are more than a year old.
Overnight Monday, the wolves dug a couple feet under a mesh fence dividing two sides of the exhibit.
The fence isn't visible from the guest viewing areas.
Originally, the zoo planned to put polar bears on both sides of the exhibit but six weeks ago decided to put wolves on one side.
Peterkin said the Assiniboine Park Zoo requires a permit from Manitoba Conservation to keep provincially native species. He said the exhibit was built to polar bear standards but they notified Manitoba Conservation that they would also house wolves in the area as well.
Crews repaired the fence by pouring concrete underneath.
The wolves and polar bears were back on display July 10.
Provincial officials issued a statement Thursday.
"Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship's Wildlife Branch issues permits to possess wildlife for educational purposes and the permits include conditions that the zoo meet or exceed CAZA (Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums) standards for displaying species native to Manitoba," said the statement.
"The Assiniboine Park Zoo holds a valid 'zoological' possession permit to be able to possess wolves and other species. They also have a separate permit to possess the polar bears as separate legislation oversees the possession of these animals," said the statement.
The province said its wildlife branch meets with zoo officials regularly through the year and conducts visits, including when exhibits are modified.
- with a report from Alesia Fieldberg