Thursday, May 28, 2015

Polar bear paradise at Henry Vilas Zoo

The happy new residents of the brand new Arctic Passage, at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin. Suka roams, while Sakari chews on one of the logs.

Suka and Sakari welcomed visitors to their brand new home, Arctic Passage, at Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison Wisconsin over the Memorial Day weekend. I visited on Monday, May 25.

A view of the old polar bear grotto, in a photo taken in June, 2013. The project broke ground in March of 2014. The new Arctic Passage is in the same area, but  at 1.7 acre, is much, much larger. Photo by Jeff Merrow.

A map of the $9.13 million Arctic Passage project.
 There is reference to an overlook to be added later, at top left. The area is home to polar bears, grizzly bears and three harbor seals.

Suka walks, and Sakari thinks about chewing some more bark off that branch. The three windows you see are in the cafeteria,
 so you can watch the bears while you enjoy lunch.

Suka and Sakari, now 2 ½ years old, were born at the Toledo Zoo to Crystal and Marty on November 21, 2012. Last September, the twins moved to Como Zoo in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they had an enclosure all to themselves. The other two polar bears at Como, Neil and Buzz, lived next door.

Sakari swims in the big diving pool, While Suka takes one of her long walks. This photo was taken from the central viewing area between the two enclosures.
This past Saturday, May 23, was the grand opening of the new Arctic Passage at Henry Vilas, a wonderful little free zoo in Madison.

One comment I heard over and over was how much nicer this enclosure was for the bears than the ancient and much smaller grotto.

The polar bear cubs seemed to be having a wonderful time, enjoying the deep pool and the rolling grassy meadow they now call home.

Suka and her brother Sakari will live at Henry Vilas for several years, while they grow up. They are still just playful cubs.

One of the three panoramic windows in the cafeteria.

As you approach Arctic Passage, the first thing you see is the restaurant. Straight ahead through the doors are the three big windows to view the meadow from inside. To the right is another window to see the lower corner of the meadow. There is also a den with  two viewing windows to peek inside.

One of two windows to see the den

Walking toward the central viewing area, you can stop and see the underwater action in the 46,500 gallon pool from two levels, if anyone is swimming. Arctic Passage has many interactive educational features too, about the environment and endangered animals such as polar bears.

And here we have a swimmer, and fans to watch and take photos


The underwater viewing window,
as seen from the central viewing window.

Suka wonders who is that pretty bear in the water

Suka and Sakari in the lush grass.

Suka by the sunning rock in the big pool.

Sakari chomps some bark

Suka finds a snack

Sakari really loves rolling around on the grass.

Walking toward the central viewing area. There is a "problem bear relocation trap" that children can climb into, lower right. The polar bears are in the area to the left, the grizzlies to the right.

A view of the underwater viewing area, taken from the bridge by the bison

A training and demonstration area runs along the back wall between the two enclosures, so keepers can educate visitors about how they care for the bears.

A view of the right hand enclosure, through the central viewing window.The Grizzly Bear sisters Ash and Lexi seem to enjoy their new home.

A view of the right hand enclosure through the pool viewing window.
 That is the edge of the pool to the right.

A view from the lower window.
 3 year old sisters Ash and Lexi enjoy having so much space.

The pool in the right hand enclosure.
 The grizzlies have a running stream that sometimes has live fish to catch.

The Grizzly Sisters Ash and Lexi really enjoy their new home, and the visitors find them to be very entertaining.

Something I have not seen before, a retired research vehicle - a Tundra Buggy -  sponsored by Polar Bears International is on display at Arctic Passage.

Sakari and Suki wait by the door. They go inside at 4 p.m. So come early.


  1. Dear Molly
    The new enclosures look very good!
    I wish Suka and Sakari a nice time there.
    The grizzly sisters are also beautiful!

  2. Dear Molly
    The new enclosures look very good!
    I wish Suka and Sakari a nice time there.
    The grizzly sisters are also beautiful!