Polar Passage

This expansive habitat will provide our bears with a diverse and stimulating habitat, give zoo visitors new and exciting views of the bears and facilitate groundbreaking animal care and conservation science aimed at helping bears in the wild survive.

Polar bears live on wide open tundra and ice floes on the Arctic Ocean. They depend upon ice to hunt and eat. Polar bears need complex space for exploration. When the Oregon Zoo's new Polar Passage habitat is completed in 2020 it will provide the bears with larger, more open terrain that they can patrol as they do in the wild. The new habitat will include natural landscaping, tundra plants, elevated areas for long views, shallow and deep saltwater pools, and many viewing opportunities for visitors.

The new design features:

  • Long views for bears, gained by increasing their elevation and eliminating visual barriers. 
  • Visitor views of the zoo’s work supporting Arctic conservation science. 
  • A more efficient pool-filtration system that will save water and energy. 
  • Saltwater pools, best for maintaining healthy skin and fur.
  • Square footage, water quality and housing conditions that exceed standards for accredited zoos and aquariums. 
  • Elimination of concrete, which absorbs and maintains heat in the summer.

The zoo is working with Polar Bears International, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners on research projects that will shed new light on how climate change is affecting wild polar bears. Polar Passage will provide visitors with a view into these research activities so that they learn along with the scientists and gain greater appreciation for the bears' conservation status and their dwindling Arctic habitat. Learn about the zoo's support of polar bear conservation science.

All of the zoo's new animal habitats will provide larger, more natural areas to accommodate family groups. Polar Passage will include private denning spaces for mother bears and cubs, stimulating surroundings and many options so the bears can make choices about their daily activities. Polar bears are already experiencing significant changes to their habitats from the effects of climate change, increasing the urgency for expanded education about their plight. Polar Passage will tell the story of polar bears in their native habitats and changes they are experiencing as a result of melting sea ice. It will show visitors how to take effective action to reduce climate change impacts on the Arctic. The design process started in January 2016. Polar Passage will open in 2020.