Going to Churchill, Manitoba, in northern Canada, has been on our travel list for a while now. Seeing polar bears in the arctic and learning about polar bear conservation firsthand sounds like a great trip. The problem is that it’s a long hike to far Northern Manitoba, and a fairly expensive touch at that, so we were thrilled to get a chance to check out the new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo.
Journey to Churchill
Opened in summer 2014, the new 10 acre Journey to Churchill exhibit showcases animals from all across the northern tundra. The species you can see include wolf, caribou, muskox, snowy owl, bison, Arctic fox and the always entertaining seals.
Of course, the main attraction at Journey to Churchill is the four polar bears, their sprawling enclosures and (our favorite) an underwater viewing tunnel. The tunnel lets you watch polar bears navigating the water edges and swimming through the water. The coolest part about it (pun intended) is that the tunnel will remain open all winter so visitors will get a chance to see bears navigating over and under the ice during the colder winter months as well.
Unfortunately we didn’t see bears swimming when we visited however we did see two walking the edge and dipping their paws in the water. Luckily, the bears were more cooperative on Journey to Churchill’s opening day, and put on a great show for visitors. You can check out their cool video below.
The International Polar Bear Conservation Centre focuses on housing and transitioning orphaned and at-risk polar bears from northern Manitoba, research that contributes to the survival of polar bears in the wild, and an interactive visitor interpretive centre. Polar bears are listed as a vulnerable species, meaning that they’re likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.
Where do the polar bears come from?
The Assiniboine Park Zoo currently has four polar bears housed in 3 enormous all season polar bear enclosures: Hudson, Storm, Aurora and Kaska. All four bears were transitioned to the Assiniboine Park Zoo under the direction of Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship in compliance with provincial legislation. Only 2 of the enclosures are currently being used for the bears while the 3rd is being used to house a large pack of timber wolves. When the zoo acquires another pair of polar bears, the plan is to move the wolves into another enclosure.
Each bear’s story is as unique as it is. Hudson, a large male, was born into captivity at the Toronto Zoo and rejected by his mother before coming to Winnipeg. Storm, another male, was taken in by the Winnipeg Zoo after he attacked a man in Churchill. Aurora and Kaska, both females, were orphaned in Churchill and had little chance of survival on their own without a mother to help them learn to hunt and fend for themselves.
More than Polar Bears
Of course, the Assiniboine Park Zoo has more than just polar bears. While the zoo has all kinds of animals, from lions and tigers to monkeys and camels (and even a mob of kangaroos), the kids loved the polar bears, the huge climate controlled indoor playground and walking around the shady and colorful butterfly enclosure the most. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that the temperature hit 32 Celsius (90°F) the day we went. Luckily, the Tundra Grill restaurant, overlooking one of the polar bear enclosures and next to the indoor playground, had decent ice cream. 🙂