At the Lake Superior Zoo, we know that the news of Berlin’s move to Kansas City is undoubtedly a shock to our friends and supporters. We understand that this development is difficult, concerning and confusing. We know that you all love and cherish Berlin as a symbol of our community and our zoo, and we know that you want her back. Trust us; we do too. But we hope that you also understand that the decision to move Berlin is completely and totally in her best interest.
I’m not talking about one interest here; we’ve got a whole bucket full of reasons, concerns, ethics, and morals that led us to what is a terribly heart-wrenching, yet completely sound decision. Let me break it down for you.
The flood in June devastated our zoo. We are reminded of this on a daily basis, and the bottom line is: Polar Shores is uninhabitable.
During the flood, the Polar Shores building was filled with over 14 feet of standing water, not to mention the basement, which remained flooded for some time. The pumps do not work, and the electricity does not function. To put any living creature in that facility would mean a complete renovation of the building to restore its normal functions.
That aside, Polar Shores was built to match standards set in the 1980s. As with all things, time and knowledge demand an upgrade, and though Polar Shores may seem like an ideal home for a polar bear, it actually needs quite a bit of work. As an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo, we pride ourselves on upholding extremely strict guidelines in regard to animal care. Long story short — the building needs a major upgrade. It needs grass and salt water and a whole lot of other things that would require major renovation to ensure happy and healthy polar bears for years to come.
And while we’re on the subject of polar bears, let’s talk about species survival plan recommendations. These are set in place by the AZA in order to preserve endangered animal populations around the world. At this point in time, polar bears are listed as vulnerable, and due to rapidly shrinking arctic ice sheets, they could become endangered sooner rather than later. Berlin is one of 65 polar bears in an AZA accredited institution, and one of 37 active participants in the polar bear SSP program. Around the country, there are beautiful, state of the art facilities (like Kansas City) that give animals the absolute best shot at successful reproduction. Berlin has been matched up with the Kansas City Zoo’s bear, Nikita, in hopes that the two will have cubs. Admittedly, the odds aren’t ideal. Berlin is 23 and reaching the end of her breeding years. But she’s not there yet. The veterinarian from Kansas City will be visiting her at Como next week to ensure that all is well, and we’re confident that it is. We all know she’s a sassy bear, and we hear that Nikita is quite the looker. Kansas City will provide Berlin with something that we can’t: a chance at love. But, in all seriousness, it is our mission as a zoo to be leaders in animal care and conservation. This means having to make tough decisions in regard to animals with which we spend the vast majority of our time. However, as hard as it is, we have to take our selfishness and our personal feelings and transform them into hope for our beloved animal friends. After all, they’re the only ones who can repopulate themselves. We’re just there to give our care, support, and a helping hand (like any good friend would).
So Berlin’s current home is in complete disarray. The building is internally devastated. She’s also got a shot at being a mom (who doesn’t want to see Berlin’s cubs??!) But here comes the real kicker: Polar Shores is officially within the flood plain of our zoo. What this means is, if we put Berlin back in her old exhibit, we are creating the possibility to put her in danger of another flood, and that is something that we will not do. Berlin is our family. She is our sister, our friend, and our colleague. We will not put her back into a facility that has the potential to cause her harm. She deserves better than that, and we intend to give it to her.
This is why the construction of Bear Territory is so important. The complex has the potential to bring Berlin (and maybe even a baby!) home. We have the ability, as a zoo, to regain our status as being a leader in polar bear care and conservation. We have the bear who can come home to us a hero. We know that Kansas City is really far away. We know it sounds like Berlin will never come back. The truth is, she might not. But even though she’s not currently in her home, Berlin has never for even one second left any one of our hearts. She will never not be our bear, and as long as it’s in her best interest, we are going to do whatever is in our power to have her back with us again. So, have faith in us and in Berlin. She’s got a big journey ahead of her, and she needs your support, your thoughts, your well wishes, and your love (as do we). We’ll be here rooting her on. We hope you will be, too.