Detroit Zoo to welcome new polar bear

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

A polar bear named Tundra is prepping to make the trek east to her new home at the Detroit Zoo.

The 29-year-old veteran of the Indianapolis Zoo will be relocated to Detroit June 25 when her current home permanently closes its polar bear exhibit, according to officials at both zoos.

Tundra will join Detroit’s current resident bears, female Talini — a native of the zoo born there in 2004 — and male Nuka, also born in 2004 and sent to Detroit in 2011.

The transfer is a few months in the making, according to the Detroit Zoo. When the Indianapolis Zoo decided to close its polar bear exhibit, officials visited Detroit and were won over by the zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life habitat.

“The Zoo’s veterinary staff carefully reviewed all of the options and agree that the Detroit Zoo is the perfect facility for Tundra’s needs as a senior bear,” Indianapolis Zoo officials said in a statement posted Monday to its website. “Considered one of the leading polar bear facilities in the world, the Detroit Zoo offers large spaces and pools with easy slopes for Tundra to enter and exit the water, especially as she gets older.”

Detroit Zoo officials agreed that their habitat was an ideal match for the older bear. The animals typically live to 15 or 18 years in the wild, but tend to live longer in zoos where they have access to health care and a balanced nutrition.

“The Arctic Ring of Life is an incredible facility for this polar bear to spend the remainder of her golden years,” chief life sciences officer Scott Carter said. “She will receive the best possible care during her time here and enjoy the comforts of this expansive, naturalistic space.”

Summer visitors to the Detroit Zoo can spot Tundra with her new playmates, swimming in the bears’ freshwater pool and overhead in the well-known, 70-foot-long Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage.

The Detroit habitat also includes a grassy tundra, a “pack ice” area and an additional 190,000-gallon salt water pool.

The habitat is one of North America’s largest polar bear enclosures, also housing seals and arctic foxes, according to the Detroit Zoo. It encompasses more than 4 acres of outdoor and indoor spaces.

Indianapolis opened its polar bear exhibit in 1988, which was Tundra’s first year at the zoo, according to officials. The habitat was state-of-the-art at the time, but now needs updating. Zoo officials are exploring options for different species to inhabit the space after Tundra’s move.

Polar bears were declared an endangered species in 2008.

“Tundra has helped educate millions of guests over the years as an ambassador for her counterparts in the wild,” Indianapolis Zoo officials said. “She will be greatly missed.”

In Detroit, officials are eagerly awaiting their new resident.

“Everyone here is thrilled to have Tundra join Nuka and Talini at the Arctic Ring of Life,” Carter said. “We’re all looking forward to her arrival.”

HFournier@detroitnews.com

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@HollyPFournier