The Polar Bear Necessities

A Journey to Cochrane’s Polar Bear Habitat

As I pull into the Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, Ontario, it feels more like I’m entering the infamous scene from the movie Jurassic Park. Huge fences tower above me, cameras point in all directions, and there is an eerie quiet as it isn’t quite 10 am on a Sunday. Instead of the dinosaurs that appear in Jurassic Park, the only animals behind these fences are polar bears.

Photo by Kendra Marjerrison

The Polar Bear Habitat in Cochrane, I soon learn, is a special place. Hailed as the largest and the only human-run care facility dedicated solely to polar bears, this facility currently houses three male bears. Visitors are welcomed in seven days a week, all year round. Friendly staff greet me as I walk into the visitors' centre, complete with a gift store, registration desk, and learning theatre. I glance up at the television in the corner and notice a live broadcast of one of the bears, who I soon learn is Ganuk, playing with what looks like a rain barrel.

Photo by Kendra Marjerrison

After a quick safety lesson from the staff and an overview of the facility, I venture outside. Joined by a busy family of four, we set off looking for the bears. A total of four enclosures, spread over seven hectares, give the bears plenty of room to roam and play, including the largest enclosure in the world that features a natural lake. Although the lake is snow-covered currently, the bears still tromp through the snow and can often be found testing the thickness of the ice by banging on it.

Photo by Kendra Marjerrison

Just a short walk away from the visitors' centre is the first enclosure featuring Ganuk and Henry, two male bears that live together. Typically polar bears aren’t housed together, and I get a chance to speak about this with the bear keeper, Dylan, at the learning centre that overlooks two enclosures. As Ganuk and Henry check in on us through the glass walls and Inukshuk, the largest and oldest bear pays no attention to us, Dylan talks to me about the training they are doing with the bears. “Pretty soon” he says, “the bears will have enough trust and training to voluntarily let us draw their blood for health tests.” Here at the polar bear habitat, the keepers use a lot of hands on interaction to gain the trust of the bears, and all of them even enjoy getting tickled and having their heads scratched.

Photo by Kendra Marjerrison

In the summertime, visitors are invited to take a dip in the wading pool, that looks into the polar bears’ own personal swimming pool, as well watch as the bears swim for hours in the natural lake. Families will easily spend a few hours exploring the habitat, watching the polar bears play alongside each other as well as learning more about the species and the challenges they face. A visit to the polar bear habitat isn’t a visit to the zoo. It’s a place of learning, interacting, and understanding more about these impressive creatures.

Photo by Kendra Marjerrison
About Lindsay MacNevin

is a lover of everything outdoors including lakes, oceans, mountains and more. When she is not chasing sunrises or checking out the latest hikes she can be found dedicating her time to Women Who Explore, her latest passion project to encourage women to get outdoors. 

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