When Nora, the fan-favorite polar bear who departed the Oregon Zoo in 2017, returns to Portland next month, she’ll come back to a very different space than she left.
The new exhibit, called Polar Passage, represents the zoo’s commitment to conservation, research and animal welfare, according to Amy Cutting, a curator at the zoo.
“We really wanted to focus on increasing scientific literacy,” Cutting said.
Some of the aesthetic upgrades will be obvious to anyone who visited the old exhibit, which was built in the mid-80s.
Gone are the tall rock walls that surrounded the two public-facing yards in the old habitat. In their place, two open yards will give Nora four times as much space as she previously had. Where before the polar bears walked on concrete, they’ll now plant their paws on soft dirt and grass, which was being seeded Thursday afternoon.
Polar Passage features two salt-water pools, one of them 14 feet deep with opportunities for zoogoers to see Nora both above and below the waterline. The new exhibit has hills at the center of each yard so the bears will be able to look out over the surrounding zoo grounds, now able to see the chimps and orangutans that before they could only smell with their powerful noses.
Just as the bears will be able to see out, people will be able to see in. Nora, and any bears that join her in the future, will be viewable from almost all sides as opposed to the few viewing windows where zoo guests clamored for a glimpse of Nora in the previous space.
Construction of Polar Passage is one of the final projects made possible by a $125 million bond package passed by Portland voters in 2008.