WINNIPEG -- Polar bears could return to Winnipeg in months instead of years, as Assiniboine Park Zoo is preparing to house orphan animals from across the Arctic.
The largest zoo in Manitoba, the self-proclaimed polar bear capital of the world, has been without a member of the iconic Arctic species since 2008, when 42-year-old zoo resident Debby died. The zoo is unable to acquire another adult polar bear because its existing bear enclosure, built in the 1950s, no longer meets Manitoba Conservation standards.
Young polar bears, however, may be housed at Assiniboine Park Zoo temporarily as part of a plan to make the park an international centre of polar bear education as well as rescue efforts for orphan ursus maritimus found anywhere in the Arctic.
The Assiniboine Park Conservancy is planning to build a $7-million facility called the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre as part of a $90-million zoo rehabilitation that will take place over the next 10 years.
The plan could see young polar bears arrive even before construction begins.
"If a polar bear becomes available, we'll do our best to ensure it finds a home," zoo co-ordinator Gordon Glover said.
But zoo visitors probably won't be able to see the orphan cubs in Winnipeg, which will be fed and cared for behind closed doors in order to acclimatize them for life in other zoos. Orphan polar bears are never returned to the wild, where they would die of exposure, starvation or cannibalistic predation.
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