Zoo keeper launches zoo-to-zoo bike ride to benefit polar bears

June 27, 2012 - 4:26pm

100-mile Cycle for Change event aims to focus attention on climate change

Oregon Zoo polar bear keeper Philip Fensterer, an avid bicycle enthusiast, has found a way to combine two of his passions this summer. He and a group of fellow cyclists will show their support for action on climate change by pedaling from Chicago's Brookfield Zoo to the Milwaukee County Zoo July 21 in the first Cycle for Change bike ride. The goal of the 100-mile journey is to raise funds for "Polar Bear Forest," a tree-planting effort sponsored by Polar Bears International.

Fensterer, a graduate of PBI's annual Leadership Camp, came up with the idea, working with fellow camp alumni and the Chicago Cycling Club to plan the event. He also designed the distinctive polar bear bike jerseys that many of the cyclists will wear.

"I can't think of a better way to highlight the value of green transportation than a bike ride," Fensterer said. "And our polar-bear-themed jerseys will help make a statement to everyone who sees us."

Fensterer will give a presentation on "How Riding your Bike Helps Polar Bears and Everything Else" at the Brookfield Zoo on July 20. Cyclists will depart from the zoo the following day at 7 a.m. They'll cycle along the shores of Lake Michigan, stop for brunch in Fort Sheridan, Ill., and arrive at the Milwaukee County Zoo around 6 p.m. for a picnic dinner on zoo grounds.

Last fall, Fensterer attended PBI's Leadership Camp in Churchill, Manitoba, known as the "polar bear capital of the world." The weeklong camp helps participants learn how to create carbon-reduction programs in their communities and to inspire public involvement. Camp participants are selected by PBI's Arctic Ambassador centers – a network of more than 50 leading zoos, museums, science centers and aquariums in North America and Europe – based on their past outreach.

"Zookeepers like Philip have the ability to reach a wide audience with a conservation message," said Kathryn Foat, vice president of conservation education and stewardship strategies for PBI. "They return home to create community action."

Fensterer lives by the rule of "making every day a polar bear day," Foat noted. He uses public transportation, and makes the 10-mile bike commute to his job at the Oregon Zoo several times a week.

PBI's Polar Bear Forest is a tree-planting effort to help the public make the connection between planting trees and reducing CO2. The pilot program is set in Wisconsin, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Forestry Division.

To sign up for the ride, email Fensterer at fensterer3@mac.com or visit the Chicago Cycling Club website. Those who can't participate in person can show their support by donating to the Polar Bear Forest on PBI's website, and writing "Cycle for Change" in the field for company name.

The event is a joint effort involving the Chicago Cycling Club, the two zoos, the American Association of Zoo Keepers and Polar Bears International.

Polar Bears International is the world's leading polar bear conservation group. Its focus is on saving polar bears by saving their habitat.