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    This past year, my son and I treated ourselves to a family membership to the Louisville Zoo and let me say, we were not disappointed. Being able to visit the zoo a couple of times a week, the extended summer hours, the water play area,  the animatronic dinosaurs they had there this past summer…well, the list goes on and on.

    One part of the zoo that we really enjoyed was the new Glacier Run exhibit. This is where we spent time with some of our favorite animals: seals and sea lions. The only downside to the exhibit, we found, was that on some of our visits, every other visitor to the zoo seemed to love the new exhibit as well and we’d actually have to wait our turn to catch a glimpse of Qannik, the little orphaned polar bear cub from Alaska. The nerve of some people, loving animals as much as we do, right? I say, am I right? No one?

    Alrighty then.

    Anyway, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) agreed with my son, me and all those multitudes of people and awarded the AZA 2012 Award for Exhibit Design for the Glacier Run Exhibit, over seven other contenders.

    Well done, Louisville Zoo!

    Glacier Run is modeled after Churchill, Canada, a town on the edge of the Arctic wilderness where residents have learned to live in balance with nature. Home to seals and sea lions, a rescued grizzly bear family and three polar bears, Glacier Run is a point of pride for the Louisville Zoo and for the city as well.

    The primary goals of Glacier Run, which have been reached, are:

    • Create innovative enrichment for bears. The unpredictability of the exhibit, with its rotation schedule, seven bedrooms, bridge transfer and under town tunnel helps keep the bears active and engaged by more closely modeling what they would experience in the wild.
    • Increase visitor engagement and average stay time at the zoo. (As mentioned above, my family loves to sit in the 300 seat amphitheater and watch the seals and sea lions, both at the keeper presentation that occurs three times a day and just watching them swim on their own.). There is a community center with artifacts that doubles as a classroom, videos played on flat screens and a Glacier Run “Radio Show” that plays on the audio system through the town. The bear habitat has two encounter areas with roll-up doors and there are demonstrations twice a day.  There’s also a bridge that the bears use to travel over the heads of the visitors. Kids LOVE that part of the exhibit.
    • Create resources to help in the recovery of rescued animals. Not only is Qannik a rescued animal but one sea lion and three grizzly bears are also rescues that now call Glacier Run home.

    Some additional design goals include inspiring people to improve their personal conservation efforts, increase exhibit space by 200%, add new animal species to the exhibit, provide information on climate change and increase zoo attendance and membership.

    “Glacier Run has exceeded our expectations, and our guests and visiting professionals are always surprised at the immersive experience of Glacier Run,” said John Walczak, Louisville Zoo Director. “We are proud to offer extraordinary spaces and enrichment opportunities for our animals as well as a place where visitors can have fun and learn about the arctic and some of the most important environmental stories of our generation.”

    Said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, “We are creating world class, innovative thinking in Louisville and the experience that Glacier Run offers to visitors of the Louisville Zoo solidly lives up to that ideal. Glacier Run is not only a huge addition to our city’s strong visitor attractions and quality of life it is a superb destination and environment for lifelong learning and adventure for people of all ages.”

     “This award is the highest honor for new exhibits, and the Louisville Zoo is on the leading edge of zoological exhibits in North America,” said AZA president and CEO Jim Maddy. “This exhibit demonstrates the Louisville Zoo’s innovation and dedication to the best in animal care and public education.”

    They say everyone loves a winner. If so, then all Louisvillians were just given another reason to love our zoo.

    And ain’t love grand?

    The Louisville Zoo is the state zoo of Kentucky and is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA accreditation is given to zoos dedicated to conservation, education, science, recreation and excellent animal care.

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    About Cynthia Bard

    mom; amateur nature lover; graduate student; freelance writer; optimist

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