The Toledo Zoo marks its 100th birthday this year with the opening of the Arctic Encounter, the largest exhibit it has ever presented.
The exhibit that features polar bears, harbor seals, grey seals, and an extensive Interpretive Center far and away eclipses the zoo's humble beginnings when it opened in 1900 with one woodchuck.
Since that time, the zoo has grown to 62 acres and has become home to more than 4,250 animals that represent more than 630 species.
Visitors can view three male polar bears in a 6,000-square-foot exhibit of life-like habitat. It is five times the size of the old display.
The $11.5 million exhibit sits on 4.2 acres at the base of the Anthony Wayne Trail bridge. It is part of a 10-year expansion pro gram projected to cost more than $66 million. About $53 mil lion is being provided by a capital levy passed in 1995. The zoo must come up with the rest of the money.
A rare feature of the polar bear exhibit is a viewing area below the surface of a huge 12-foot-deep swimming pool where visitors can watch the animal swim underwater. Seals can be seen in their own exhibit, complete with their own pool that holds 210,000 gallons of chilled sea water.
Seven salt-water streams and two waterfalls flow in the exhibits, with a fresh water stream that will be occasionally stocked with fish for the polar bears.
Both animals can be viewed side-by-side as if they shared the same area, but barriers prevent them from coming in contact with each other. Keepers can swap the bears and seals between the two exhibits.
To lure visitors this month, the zoo is offering half-price admission at $3 for adults and $1.50 for children 2 to 11 years old and for seniors citizens. On Saturdays this month, the zoo will offer free movies in the indoor theater on weekends with the purchase of a general admission tickets.
On March 15, the zoo will open a centennial exhibit that will give visitors a nostalgic look at its first 100 years. It will include personal stories, narratives about historical events, and the philosophies of how the zoo has evolved into an exceptional conservation institution.
William Dennler, the zoo's director, said the zoo will open a wolf exhibit in two years and a major grassland exhibit in 2004. The grassland exhibit, which will return zebras to the zoo, will be four times the size of the African savanna area, which opened in 1987.
Plans for expansion of the zoo aquarium include 150,000-gallon tanks that will allow a better look at oceanic environments, Mr. Dennler said. Today, the aquarium's largest tank is 8,000 gallons.