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Behind the scenes: Bears returning to Utah's Hogle Zoo


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SALT LAKE CITY — On the northwest corner of Hogle Zoo, a new 3.5 acre animal home is being created that's unlike any other in Utah.

"We're trying to mimic, basically, Oregon up to the mainland of Alaska," explained Jeffrey Landry, the zoo's animal care supervisor.

Dozens of pumps help create beach front property in the new Rocky Shores exhibit by filtering salt water. In one area, sea lions and seals will play; in another, you'll soon find Utah's only Polar Bear, Rizzo.

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View pictures of the construction process of Hogle Zoo's Rocky Shores exhibit, as well as drawings of what the completed exhibit will look like, by CLICKING HERE.

"The thing that public won't see the most is all of the filtration that goes into these pools. We've got over 350,000 gallons of salt water that we're filtering," said Dan Smith, associate director of capital projects at the zoo.

Once completed, visitors of the zoo will have opportunity to come face to face with 14-year-old Rizzo, who is being transferred from a zoo in Cincinnati. And when we say a "face to face," we're talking nothing more than a few sheets of glass.

"Behind us, we have our underwater viewing building, where we have complete underwater viewing," Smith said. "Also our nose-to-nose underwater viewing (includes) both sea lions and polar bears."

Rocky Shores will also re-introduce grizzly bears to Utah. The Bear Meadows exhibit will soon house one male and two female bears. Their habitat will include a fresh water stream to play in.

"There are no more grizzly bears here," Landry said. "Hopefully, people can see them and get an appreciation and go, ‘Wow, we should have grizzlies here. We should allow them to come back.'"

Preparing a home for the grizzlies, Rizzo, and all the other new dwellers of Rocky Shores, has been a dream for zoo staff; and with the help of a voter-approved $33 million bond in 2009, that dream is now a reality.

The pools are full, crews are finishing up construction, and the staff is ordering all the food — including fish for an entire year. "We get in thousands and thousands of pounds that we hold in a cold storage," Landry explained.

Utah newest animal friends will start moving into their new home this spring, everyone at the zoo will be ready.

"We have a pretty good schedule set up, probably starting in March, bringing the animals in, kind of staggering it a little bit and setting them up in quarantine. As the exhibits become ready, we'll start introducing them into the exhibits."

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