by Jeff Hoyt
Do politics belong at the zoo? Like Oscar winners giving their acceptance speeches, when you’re one of the world’s best, I guess you’re not afraid to speak out at the risk of alienating your audience.
Last year, the San Diego Zoo re-opened their Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge at a cost of a cool $1 million. But the world-renowned institution isn’t content with just showing their three bears at play on land and water. The conservation-minded organization which also runs the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park is trying to get the message out that global warming is melting the ice floes that these animals need to live.
“We’ve redesigned the Polar Bear Plunge exhibit to share with guests the challenges polar bears are facing due to drastic changes to their habitat that have occurred in just the last three decades,“ said the zoo’s Director John Dunlap. “The San Diego Zoo wants our guests to experience the beauty and playfulness of our three polar bears while learning about the lifestyle of bears in the Arctic, why they are threatened and what humans can do to ensure their survival.”
So in addition to their habitat and a few neutral exhibits like a faux snow den in which kids can crawl around, the zoo also shows maps that show changes to ice in the Arctic over the last two decades, and a large carbon dioxide graph. The message is even stronger in the online world, where kids can check out the polarcam to watch the zoo bears live, then create their own Polar Bear SOS fundraising page to help save more animals.
There have reportedly been a few complaints, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting business. The line to see the giant panda bears—endangered due to forest and bamboo patch destruction—was quite long despite the rainy weather on the day of our last visit. Our favorite complaint/suggestion was, not surprisingly, posted on a Fox News blog: “Why don’t they shave out ‘Stop Global Warming’ lettering in the bear’s fur?”