Welcome to your new home, Kali: Polar Bear Point opening at the zoo

Kali is looking to meet you soon at Polar Bear Point.
Kali is looking to meet you soon at Polar Bear Point. St. Louis Zoo

St. Louis Zoo visitors can get nose-to-nose with a swimming polar bear and learn about the lives of polar bears at the new 40,000-square-foot McDonnell Polar Bear Point opening to the public on Saturday.

“This wonderful habitat shows our commitment to protecting polar bears, which are declining in the wild and are highly vulnerable,” said Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D., Dana Brown president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis Zoo. “By working to not only conserve polar bears in the wild but to offer a wonderful habitat for breeding and caring for bears, we can help save these iconic animals.”

The first occupant of this state-of-the-art, $16 million exhibit is Kali (pronounced KULL-ee), a 2 year-old, 850-pound male polar bear. Kali was orphaned when a native Alaskan hnter killed his mother in a subsistence hunt, not realizing she had a cub. Kali came to St. Louis on May 5 after living for two years at the Buffalo Zoo.

Kali’s new home next to Penguin & Puffin Coast in The Wild section at the Zoo transitions seamlessly from sea to coastline to land. The “sea” area features an arctic cave room with an expansive glass viewing wall where visitors can peer deeply into the 50,000-gallon Polar Dive Pool. This large glass panel also offers a split view into and across the pool and on to Bear Beach, created with sand, pebbles and rock formations.

The coastline offers a scenic view that includes carved rock made to look as if it was formed by glaciers. It also features a large panoramic view with nine curved, faceted glass panels spanning 55 feet and offering a view of Bear Beach.

The grassy “tundra” area provides a unique polar bear interaction area, where visitors can observe bear behavior up close at a glass/mesh door as keepers go through training exercises.

This habitat can accommodate up to five bears in the future — ideally an adult male and female bear, who would head up a family of one to three cubs. The new habitat more than doubles the space of the old polar bear area, which had been home to Zoo polar bears from the 1920s until 2009.

Admission to the zoo and McDonnell Polar Bear Point is free. There are fees for special attractions, including the First Bank Sea Lion Show, Emerson Children’s Zoo, Emerson Zooline Railroad and Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel. On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Labor Day, the Zoo is open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. Weekday summer hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.