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For The First Time In More Than 80 Years, The Denver Zoo Won't Have Polar Bears

Courtesy Denver Zoo
Polar bears Cranbeary and Lee will move to the Alaska Zoo and the Columbus Zoo this fall.

Time is running out to see polar bears at the Denver Zoo -- at least for a while.

This fall the zoo’s two resident bears -- Cranbeary and Lee -- are being sent to other zoos in the hope that they will produce offspring, said Brian Aucone, the zoo’s senior vice president for animal sciences.

The bears have not mated since they’ve been at the zoo, and the hope is that new partners might help, Aucone said. There are only 44 polar bears in zoos in the United States.

This will be the first time in more than 80 years that the Denver Zoo has not had polar bears.

“They’re certainly a species that is iconic to Denver Zoo,” Aucone said. “They’ve been a part of our history for a long time and guests really love to see them. They’re such an impressive animal.”

Officials are currently "crate training" the polar bears -- similar to the way one would a dog or a cat -- to prepare them for the trip, Aucone said. Getting them comfortable with the transport crate means they typically don't have to sedate the animals, he added. Cranbeary will go to the Alaska Zoo in late October, and Lee will go to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in November.

The zoo’s brown bears will move from Bear Mountain into the upgraded Northern Shores polar bear exhibit space. A national historic landmark built in 1918, Bear Mountain was the first naturalistic habitat of its kind in North America.

While Aucone said he hopes polar bears will return to the zoo soon, there is no timeline at this point. Meanwhile, zoo officials will look at fundraising and planning for a new “state of the art” polar bear exhibition with plenty of green space and pools, he said.

“We’re excited about the opportunity and the ability for these guys to continue to contribute to the population and we look forward to people coming out and saying goodbye -- but not forever.”

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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