Polar Passage

Learn how voter-funded improvements will enrich the habitat and living experience for the zoo's polar bears.

Polar bears live on wide open tundra and ice floes on the Arctic Ocean. They patrol their territory and take in views across expanses of water and ice. Polar bears need complex space for exploration. When the Oregon Zoo's new Polar Passage habitat is completed in 2019 it will provide the bears with larger, more open terrain that they can patrol as they do in the wild and guests can patrol with them. The new two-tiered habitat will include natural ground materials, tundra plants, elevated areas for long views, shallow and deep pools, and many viewing opportunities for visitors.

The new design features:

  • A more efficient pool filtration system that will save water and energy.
  • Long views created for bears by increasing their elevation and eliminating visual barriers.
  • Visitor views into bear training areas.
  • Advanced lighting and ventilation for treatment and off-exhibit areas.
  • Square footage, water quality and housing conditions that will exceed zoo industry standards.
  • Unique views of the polar bear exhibit from the new zoo train loop.
  • Elimination of concrete that 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 the effects of climate change on polar bears in the wild. The new polar bear habitat at the Oregon Zoo 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 research.

All of the zoo's new animal habitats will provide larger, more natural areas to accommodate family groups and future breeding. 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. Design of the new habitat will include developing the story of polar bears in their native habitats and changes they are experiencing as a result of melting arctic ice. The design process started in January 2016. Polar Passage will open in spring 2019.