someone photographs polar bears from below in a glass tunnel

Assiniboine Park Conservancy - Winnipeg, MB

I struggle with zoos and the idea of animals being kept in captivity. Sure, I recognize the educational and conservation benefits but I ache at thought of the psychological welfare of these animals. My visit to Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba was not without hesitation. It was mildly relieving to hear that the majority of their animals are rescues or orphans, or have been born in captivity, therefor these animals just wouldn't survive if they were free and in the wild. I was told there were polar bears at Assiniboine, and I’d never seen Polar Bears before, so curiosity (assisted by a reasonable admission price) got me and two friends in the door on a surprisingly warm March day in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

We arrived shortly before 3pm and the park closed at 4. We openly debated even going in for just an hour but the guest services attendant behind the counter assured us that even for a short visit the polar bears were worth visiting. So off we went.

We hurried our way to the polar bears large enclosure and entered the “aquarium” section from the pathway. It was a jaw dropping experience to enter underwater and see these giant creatures so close and just above us. I believe there are eleven polar bears in total, but three of them stole the show. One was doing laps by a window, curious and poking at the corner where their enclosure comes closest to the seal enclosure. Perhaps compelled by it’s natural predator instinct and tracking a scent in the water? The two other bears visible to us were not curious about anything - they were too busy wrestling, rolling, diving and chasing one another. They were very playful and high energy, a far cry from what I had anticipated; some sad bears lazing about.

I spent almost a half hour in the underwater section of the polar bear enclosure, completely enraptured by their energy and playfulness. They almost made it hard to believe that they're not cuddly teddy bears. I have no idea if this was out of the ordinary playful behaviour and we’d come at just the right time, or if they’re always like this. I don't know if I'll be back for a second visit but am happy this visit was so pleasant.  

We didn’t have much time left before the park closed so we continued on. We certainly didn’t get to see everything, but I think even if I had the polar bears would still be my highlight.