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Utah's Hogle Zoo is a step closer to an ambitious Arctic exhibit this week after the announcement of a $3 million grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation. But the realization of the project - a nearly $20 million exhibit that would bring polar bears back to Salt Lake City - is still several years of fundraising and political maneuvering away.
The zoo last year sought to put a $65 million bond before the voters of Salt Lake County to pay for the polar exhibit and other large-scale capital projects, but the matter was blocked by the Salt Lake County Council's Republican majority, who said other spending areas - particularly education - were greater priorities.
Zoo officials are expected to seek to put the bond before voters again this year. On Monday, zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite said the zoo wouldn't be reliant on public financing to make the new exhibit happen, but without it, she said, "it will just take longer."
"If we can get on the ballot and go that route, then it will be that much faster," she said.
In announcing the donation, Braithwaite invoked the issue of climate change - polar bears have been a poster species, of sorts, for those seeking to bring attention to global warming - as one aspect that will make the exhibit relevant.
The four-acre project "will depict the Arctic's physical, cultural and social landscapes, and dramatically illustrate how humans impact the region," according to a news release issued Monday by the zoo. The project is a "priority component" of the zoo's master plan, which also includes a new animal hospital for which the zoo announced a $1.5 million donation from the Utah-based ALSAM Foundation last month.
As envisioned, the arctic exhibit will offer visitors "nose-to-nose" encounters with several polar bears, which have not been a part of the Hogle menagerie since 2003, when the zoo's last polar bear, Andy, died after ingesting a fleece glove. The glove had apparently been thrown or dropped into the bear's exhibit by a visitor.