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Fantasy Polar Bear Exhibit at Helsinki Zoo

Discussion in 'Fantasy Zoos' started by FunkyGibbon, 6 Mar 2015.

  1. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    I think the fantasy section is the right place for this, but maybe not. There are very few threads where people discuss what exhibit they would build if they were director of a specific zoo. If this is better situated in the Helsinki Zoo section then I’m sure a mod can move it.

    I visited Helsinki Zoo yesterday and was struck by what I believe is an excellent/interesting idea. Helsinki specialises in arctic/alpine species that can thrive in Finland’s bitter winter climate. One species that fits this description that is notably lacking is Polar Bears. The zoo used to hold them, but presumably went out of them because they didn't feel they had the space as times changed. I believe they do.

    The zoo is situated on a 54 acre island called Korkeasaari about 200m from another island. A bridge links the two and another bridge not shown in my diagram leads to the mainland. There are two much smaller islands which I believe the zoo does not own that are linked to the zoo island by short causeways. For 4 months over winter the sea around the zoo freezes solid.

    My big idea is to incorporate the sea between Korkeasaari and its neighbour into a huge polar bear enclosure that would instantly outclass any existing exhibit for this species. There are existing empty spaces within the zoo, next to the sea, large enough to build decent sized enclosures; it should be possible to build two approximately 0.5/1 acres each in size. These would adjoin onto two sea pens of over 5 acres in size each, which would also include the strip of land on the island opposite.
    In summer the bears would have access to a good amount of land plus all of that open water to swim in, whilst in winter they would have an environment that mimics the polar ice very accurately.

    The attached map shows how I would situate these enclosures, green is the regular paddocks, red is indoor housing/offshow and blue is the sea pens.

    Some practicalities:

    The land paddocks would attempt to imitate YWP’s approach to fencing to enclosure design, but with less of the space devoted to pools. Ideally the bears would have access to the sea pens all the time, but they could be closed off as well.

    The fencing for the sea pens would be the biggest challenge. For this my idea is to use a very strong metal mesh, similar to that used for Orca sea pens. This would extend out of the water to such a height as to be impassable for the bears. On the east of the sea pen it would be suspended from the bridge leading to Korkeasaari. This has the advantage of already being built, plus it would conceal the fence from visitors who would have an excellent view of the pens as they entered the zoo. For the other two fences my preferred option would be to suspend the fencing from high tension cable, so that it was unobtrusive to the eye, but it might be that a more permanent stronger structure is necessary. Another challenge would making sure the fences were able to cope with the sheet ice forming and melting again. These fences are clearly the weakest point of this idea but I’m confident any issues could be solved.

    On the island nearer the mainland people would be able to view the bears without entering the zoo through the fencing there. This would be great for the community; I think I’m right in saying that Copenhagen’s elephants and some Berlin’s bears are also displayed like this. They would be wonderful ambassadors for the zoo. The standoff barriers here would have to be exceptional to stop idiots attempting to access the pens, but this should not present problems.

    One final notable issue would be the zoo gaining ownership of the land off the main island which they do not currently have. Basically for this to happen they would have to do this!

    This is all wishful thinking but I do think that it could be achieved. I don’t even think it would cost that much. Probably more than the £750,000 YWP is spending, but far less than the multi-million pound costs of more traditional enclosures. It is very easy to envisage it when standing on the bridge looking out at the straight between the two islands. I think the chance to see bears roaming across sheet ice in midwinter would bring in zoonerds from around the world.

    Thanks for reading and please do comment if this has tickled your mental taste buds. I’m sure it will never happen but I've had a lot of fun thinking about it.
     

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  2. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Im not familiar with this zoo so wouldn't be able to comment on feasibility, but it sounds like a fantastic idea!
    :)
     
  3. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    Ooooh, ambitious! I like it!
     
  4. Shirokuma

    Shirokuma Well-Known Member

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  5. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    That's very interesting. All that glass would ruin the somewhat rustic/natural feel of the zoo. Always fun to see these proposals!
    I fear Gerald Durrell's famous quote, 'architects are the most dangerous animal you can let loose in a zoo', is once more directly applicable.
     
  6. lowland anoa

    lowland anoa Well-Known Member

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    I don't know that zoo.
     
  7. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    Well Finland is a bit off the beaten track, but Helsinki is definitely worth a visit if you can. The collection is very well tailored to the climate and some of the enclosures are excellent. The ibex exhibit is wonderful. One of my favourite zoos.