LINCOLN PARK — When polar bears return to the Lincoln Park Zoo this fall, they will be greeted with a huge new habitat.
Crews are at work finishing renovations on the polar bears' new habitat, which will be about double the size and offer more features and viewing areas than the old habitat once it's complete in September.
"As far as I know, there's nothing like it," said Steven D. Thompson, senior vice president of capital and programmatic planning at the zoo.
Visitors will first notice the new rock and waterfall features in the renovated outdoor viewing area at the 11,500-square-foot habitat, called the Walter Family Arctic Tundra. Around the corner, the zoo is putting finishing touches on an ice cave and a new fenced-in demonstration area that will allow zoo-goers to see the bears up close during training.
Once completed, two adult polar bears will move into the new habitat, which will open to the public sometime in the fall.
And it's safe to expect some baby polar bears in the future, as the new habitat was built in part to encourage breeding, Thompson said. The new space also gives the bears, which are solitary animals, more room to roam around on their own.
Renovating the polar bear habitat is part of the zoo's multi-million-dollar improvement plan.
Tigers leaving the zoo
Under other improvements, the Kovler Lion House, built in 1912, will be undergoing a complete overhaul for the first time. The zoo has decided to focus on lions, which means the two tigers, Mollie and Paval, will be leaving.
"Tigers are difficult to display as a group. They're asocial," said Kevin Bell, president and CEO of the zoo.
Announced Thursday, the zoo has raised a total of $87 million toward its $125 million goal to improve the zoo through its Chicago Pride Campaign, which was also announced Thursday.
The zoo is also renovating the Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove and bringing in new black-footed South African penguins. Earlier this year, the zoo renovated the Kovler Seal Pool.
A new learning center, visitor center and upgrades to the main mall and west gate are in the works.
Check out photos of the new polar bear habitat below:
Thompson talking to reporters about one of the new viewing areas. [All photos DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
Crews putting the finishing touches on the training and demonstration area, where visitors can see bears up close.
A wider look at the new habitat.
Thompson inside the denning area.
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