LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Park Zoo is giving fans of its lone polar bear, Anana, a chance for what could be a final goodbye as the zoo prepares to start construction on a new exhibit.
Anana, a 14-year-old female who has been at the zoo for 13 years, is preparing to move to a North Carolina Zoo where she will join another female, 26-year-old Patches.
Zoo experts say they don't know if Anana will return to Lincoln Park when the zoo opens a new African penguin and polar bear habitat in the spring or summer of 2016.
"It’s a little bittersweet. We have all grown attached to her," said Mark Kamhout, curator of mammals. "We do keep in the back of our minds that she is going to a really great facility in North Carolina and that gives us the opportunity to renovate our facility to make it state of the art."
The zoo is hosting a "Goodbye Summer, Goodbye Anana," event Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, where there will be games and a farewell banner for Anana guests can sign.
Anana, who gained national headlines when she escaped last winter's polar vortex by keeping warm indoors, will be headed to a newly renovated habitat in North Carolina.
Anana will be the highlight of the North Carolina Zoo's polar bear exhibit, which is opening in October, according to Dr. David Jones, director of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is still finalizing a date when they it transport the 700-pound polar bear, but it will likely occur mid-fall.
Members of the zoo were given a chance to say goodbye Thursday morning.
"We would love to have her come back, but we also want the population to do what's best for themselves," Kamhout said. "If she needs to go to another facility, than that might happen."
Sheri Snyder, of Wrigleyville, brought her 3- and 5-year-old children to say goodbye. They visit at least once a week.
"I have so many pictures of them growing up here," Snyder said. "What kids don't love polar bears?"
Snyder's 3-year-old son Haden said Anana was his favorite animal at the zoo.
Once Anana is gone, the zoo plans to break ground on the 45,000-square-foot project that will bring back penguins and eventually several polar bears.
The $22 million plan will help push a new message of conservation rather than biology for visitors, as polar bears continue to face threats of extinction.
The new habitat will be three times larger than the current one, and resemble more of the tundra polar bears are used to, with much less of an emphasis on water.
There are currently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears worldwide, according to the World Wild Life Fund.
"We are facing a lot of issues in the wild we want to educate everyone about the plight they do face," Kamhout said.
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