Phase One of Lake Superior Zoo’s New Bear Country Exhibit Almost Complete

CEO Erik Simonson Says Phase One of Bear Country Should be Complete in Roughly Eight Weeks

DULUTH, Minn. – The new Bear Country Exhibit at the Lake Superior Zoo has been years in the making.

Construction crews are currently on site, work is being completed as quickly as possible, and four of the zoo’s new animals have arrived.

“Essentially, we have become the parents to our two new bears,” said Dave Thompson, Director of Animal Management at the Lake Superior Zoo.

Over the past few months, Banks and Tundra are the den of discussion at the local attraction.

“Unfortunately their mom was hit by a car,” said Thompson.

The orphaned Coastal Brown Bears were transported to Duluth in July from the southern coast of Alaska.

“Right now they’re about ten months old. When they came into the zoo they were about 30 – 40 pounds, and right now I can tell you they’re growing very well,” said Thompson.

The cubs currently weigh around 180 – 200 pounds. It cost roughly $25 per day to feed each cub. They eat a diet of bear chow, beef, fish, fruits and vegetables.

“They’ve really taken well to the keeper staff. My carnivore keepers here have done a wonderful job, and we’ve started training them,” said Thompson.

They bear brothers are friendly, and definitely not camera shy as the become adjusted to a new home, preparing to welcome thousands of visitors once their highly anticipated exhibit is complete.

“Zoological facilities do not breed Puma, Brown Bear or Black Bear. The Lake Superior Zoo steps in and offers housing for orphaned cubs,” said Thompson.

The bears currently reside in the zoo’s Animal Care Center along with two new Puma cubs. They’re off limits to the public, but soon that’ll change.

“All the money for these two phases of this Bear Country project is secured, we just have to make sure we’re hitting our budget targets as we move along,” said Erik Simonson, CEO of the Lake Superior Zoo.

Simonson says construction is moving along at a rapid pace, but there’s one piece of the puzzle slowing things down.

“The steel channel that holds the glass in place for the exhibit is one of the components we’re waiting for,” said Simonson.

He says with the abundance of construction jobs in the Northland, its been difficult to get the custom steel product from the manufacturer.

“We still hope to open this to the public before the end of the year,” said Simonson.

Brown bears Banks and Tundra will live in the Black Bear Exhibit for this winter. To some, the structure may look familiar.

“The new Black Bear Exhibit is the original bear exhibit that was built for the Lake Superior Zoo in the 1930s. It housed Trouble the Brown Bear which a lot of older Duluthians will probably remember,” said Simonson. “One of the things that we did when I became CEO was taking a look at the old exhibit, and said for a much lesser amount of money, we can take and rehab this exhibit, turn it into something that’s more modern and we’ve done that.”

Once phase two of Bear Country is wrapped up next year, Banks and his brother Tundra will be moved to their new permanent home across Kingsbury Creek.

Black Bears will then be brought into the zoo, helping revitalize the attraction that has called Duluth home since 1923.

“I think that we’re in a place now where we can go back to where we were, grow, attract more visitors to West Duluth and really start to look at how West Duluth’s economy can revitalize itself,” said Simonson.

Part two of Bear Country construction has started as well.

Simonson hopes to have the second phase complete before the rush of the summer season in 2020.

The west side of Kingsbury Creek will include Brown Bears, Pumas, an owl, and the zoo’s North American Porcupine, Spike.

Once the redo of Polar Shores is complete in 2020, the Zoo will be adding Black Bears and River Otters.

Click here to learn more about the Lake Superior Zoo.


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