Zoo to sponsor trip to polar bear country

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If you've ever wanted to get up close to polar bears in the wild and have the money, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is offering the chance.

Zoo curator Henry Kacprzyk will be the guide to a seven-day, six-night trip to the so-called polar bear capital of the world in the southwestern Hudson Bay area of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Dates of the trip are Nov. 3-9.

Travelers will spend a few nights in Churchill and a few nights sleeping in a tundra buggy lodge, a kind of train comprising tundra buggies parked amid the polar bears' native tundra about 2 1/2 hours north of Churchill. During the day, travelers will be taken out onto the tundra in a tundra buggy, which looks like a school bus with tires about 6 feet high.

Base cost of the trip is $6,000 plus taxes and air fare for an estimated total cost of $7,000, said Margie Marks, Pittsburgh zoo curator of conservation education, who made the trip in October 2010. A zoo spokeswoman said the price is about $1,300 less than if a traveler booked it on his own.

"It's an unbelievable experience, the trip of a lifetime," Ms. Marks said. "I have pictures where a polar bear is looking right into my eyes."

Ms. Marks will provide more details about the trip and answer questions at an information session in the zoo's education complex Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. Registration is necessary.

The trip is open to 20 people, but more would be accepted, Ms. Marks said, adding she believed the trip would happen even if 20 did not sign up.

The trip came about as a result of the zoo's partnership with Polar Bears International, an organization dedicated to spreading education and awareness of polar bears that works with scientists and different zoos, she said. "We've been partners with them since we opened our exhibit in 2006, and they designated us as an Arctic Ambassador Center."

Ms. Marks noted that the Churchill area is the southernmost home of polar bears and that the ice sheets are melting due to climate change. "Now's the time to see them," she said. "These are our iconic species."

Besides polar-bear watching, the trip will provide other activities such as dog-sledding, museum trips and shopping. There also will be chances to photograph other tundra residents, such as arctic foxes, caribou, golden eagles and tundra swans.

To register for the information session, contact Ms. Marks at mmarks@pittsburghzoo.org or 412-365-2520.

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228. First Published March 2, 2012 1:45 PM


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