Credit: USFWS

Alaska Zoo forges ahead with plan to help rescue polar bears

The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is nearly ready to break ground on a unique “transition center” designed to care for and study polar bears, including orphaned cubs, rescued from the North Slope.

The new polar bear center eventually will include a 1,200-square-foot building, a 1,200-square-foot holding/maternity den facility and three natural-substrate yard areas, which together will provide space for up to six cubs, a family group or three adult bears in three dens.

The first phase of the Polar Bear Project – the transition center itself – was funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions; matching contributions from local sources brought the total conservation investment to $100,000.

A zoo official said in mid September that initial site work had been completed, contractors hired, materials ordered and an adjacent moose enclosure shifted to make room for the expanded polar bear area.

“Everything is in place so we can break ground,” said Eileen Floyd of the Alaska Zoo. “We’re just waiting on the permits.”

Designated as an Arctic Ambassador Center by the Polar Bears International (PBI) group, the zoo supports PBI research projects to help conserve the remaining population of the iconic white bears, estimated at 20,000 to 25,000, along with their declining sea ice habitat.

The zoo, which also provides a permanent home to two resident adult bears, is “the only entity that is permitted to go rescue polar bears,” Floyd said.

Zoo personnel also conduct reproductive, nutritional, behavioral and physiological research on the bears. In one recent study, animal curator Shannon Jensen investigated the best ways to remove oil from polar bear fur.

With the added capacity from the new transition center, along with a larger sample size of bears to work with, researchers could find even more opportunities to learn about the animals. 

“It gives us so many more options,” Jensen said.


About NFWF

Established by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) sustains, restores and enhances the nation's fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,000 organizations and committed more than $2.3 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at

About the Alaska Zoo

The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage has provided or found homes for the orphaned, injured and abandoned wildlife of Alaska for more than four decades. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting conservation of Arctic, sub-Arctic and like climate species through education, research and community enrichment. Learn more at

About Environmental Solutions for Communities

In 2012, Wells Fargo and NFWF launched the Environmental Solutions for Communities program, designed to support projects that link economic development and community well-being to the stewardship and health of the environment.  This five-year initiative is supported through a $15 million contribution from Wells Fargo that will be used to leverage other public and private investments with an expected total impact of over $37.5 million.


 Related Conservation Programs