LINCOLN PARK — Siku is about to grab Chicago as only a polar bear can.
Lincoln Park Zoo's new 9-foot-tall, 1,000-pound polar bear Siku made a big splash in his public debut Thursday before about 100 people jammed into the viewing area at his diving pool in the new Arctic Tundra exhibit.
Like a star onstage, Siku, who turns 7 next month, cavorted in the water with floatation balls right in front of the audience, finishing by launching a ball into the glass and following it right into the faces of those in the front row, sort of like this video from his media showcase last week, only with a bigger finish.
There were audible moans and groans when he then pulled himself out of the water and ambled back toward his den almost a half-hour after the ceremony began.
It was not so different from video of a dress rehearsal the zoo had previously shot and put on YouTube.
"It was exciting," said Katie Utterback, of Logan Square, who brought her daughter Charlotte to see the zoo's new bear two years after Anana was shipped out to allow construction of the new $15 million exhibit to begin.
"We saw him pretty up-close," Utterback added. "It was right in front of our face."
"He's pretty huge," said Kyle Soller, of Lincoln Park, who'd dressed her son Matt in a polar-bear shirt for the occasion.
Utterback said Siku seemed to have a natural feel for the crowd, adding, "The exhibit is really going to play up to that hamminess."
The 11,000-square-foot exhibit is about two-thirds outdoors, with one viewing window at the diving pool, another in a so-called ice cave, with chilled air blowing down the bear's inner side of the window for hot days, and another with an open grating to allow treats to be delivered for the bear in training.
It can be divided into two separate areas, which the zoo hopes will be put into use soon after it brings in a female bear this winter for breeding under the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan.
According to the zoo, the likely best times to see Siku, whose name means "ice" in the language of Alaska's Inupiaq people, is in the morning before 10 a.m. and after 1 p.m. after he's taken a midday nap.
Perhaps you'll catch him fresh from the den, as in this video of him sniffing the breeze with his keen sense of smell on a nice fall day in Chicago.
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