Polar bears have recently been listed as a threatened species on the US Department of Interior Endanger Species Act.  Ecological change due to global warming is a major factor in declining polar bear populations.  Polar bears are dependant on arctic sea ice for hunting among other things.  As the arctic temperatures rise, the polar bear’s hunting season gets shorter and shorter.  Polar bear scientists predict that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears may be gone by the year 2050.

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is one of 50 zoos, museums, aquariums, and science centers from around the world that have joined Polar Bears International’s network of Arctic Ambassador Centers in an effort to conserve polar bears in their natural habitat.  We are working hard to educate people about the plight of the polar bears.  We are also taking steps to reduce our impact on rising global temperatures.

Here are a few of the educational opportunities that have come from our ACC partnership with Polar Bears International:

Leadership Camps

Since 2008, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has been invited to send representatives to Churchill, Manitoba to learn more about polar bears in their natural habitat.  Polar Bears International’s Leadership Camp participants return to Minnesota to teach our citizens about polar bears and their dependency on sea ice.  Each year, participants develop forward action plans that commit them to work towards reducing the amount of carbon released into the air and therefore slowing the global warming process.

To learn more about our 2011 teen’s experience in Churchill, click here.


Climate Change Education Partnership Program

The complexity and evolution of scientific research surrounding climate change make it a difficult subject to teach.  In September 2010, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded funding to 15 projects designed to increase public understanding of global climate change.  Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, under the direction of the Chicago Zoological Society, joined a network of nine zoos, Polar Bears International, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Pennsylvania State University to conduct research that was needed to understand zoo visitor’s current views on climate change.  Following a series of questions developed by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities for their ongoing “Six Americas,” the survey allowed researchers to compare the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about climate change with those of the general public.  Results of the surveys found that 82 percent of zoo visitors believe climate change is happening.  The Six Americas study reveals that only 64 percent of the general population believes that climate change is happening.  The zoo survey also found that, although most visitors are concerned about climate change, they are least likely to believe that individual actions can help solve the problems of climate change.

The information gained from the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network will assist zoo educators, staff and volunteers to shape messaging surrounding climate change and its impact on the natural world.


Educational Tools and Materials

Each year, Polar Bears International supplies Como Park Zoo and Conservatory with educational materials to share with visitors.  Not only has PBI provided beautiful polar bear images to enhance the Polar Bear Odyssey Exhibit at Como Zoo, they have also provided artifacts our volunteers use to teach visitors first hand about polar bear adaptations.  The next time you visit Polar Bear Odyssey, if a volunteer is present, take advantage of the opportunity to touch real polar bear fur and tracking collars along with replica skulls and claws.  Finally, to enhance our polar bear celebrations, PBI has provided us with wonderful miniposters to share with visitors.  If you haven’t had a chance to make it out to Como for one of our polar bear events, you can download your own miniposters and other educational materials here.

Here are a few of the steps we are taking to reduce our carbon emissions and slow the rate of climate change:

Public Space Recycling Pilot

When we recycle, we reduce the carbon emissions that stem from landfills and incineration.  In addition, a tremendous amount of energy can be saved through the manufacturing process.  For example, making a new aluminum can from recycled cans may calculate to an energy savings of 97% over the energy that would be needed to make a new can from raw materials.

Recycling at home is easy, but recycling while you’re on the go is another story.  Approximately 31% of beverage containers in America are consumed away from home.  It is often difficult to find recycling containers in public spaces so the majority of these containers end up in the trash.  With the current national recycling rate at 20% for plastic water bottles, it is estimated that nearly 40 billion plastic water bottles end up in the trash every year – 40 BILLION!  That’s a lot of carbon being released into the atmosphere when those bottles are burned in incinerators or sent to landfills to decompose.

Citizens of St. Paul take their recycling seriously.  According to Eureka Recycling, St. Paul’s longstanding nonprofit recycling program, St. Paul has one of the highest recycling rates in the country.  In 2005 residents spoke out about their desire to have the opportunity to recycle while enjoying the public spaces within the city.  Eureka listened, and through research found that there were no well-established public-space recycling programs in the United States.  Eureka Recycling realized they would need to pilot a public space recycling program the rest of the country could model.

In 2007, St. Paul Parks and Recreation and Eureka Recycling partnered to establish a permanent recycling program at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  In 2008, 13 recycling stations were purchased and placed strategically throughout the grounds.  In addition, waste sorts, visitor surveys, and educational messages were utilized to determine best practices for Como.  During the 15 months the project was running, over 4,900 pounds of bottles and cans were diverted from trash.  Recycling that many bottles and cans is equivalent to preventing 6.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere or the same as taking one passenger vehicle off the road for 14.4 months! Como Park Zoo and Conservatory plans to purchase and place additional recycling containers for visitors improve the number of recyclable materials diverted from trash.

Como Shuttle

As one of the premier attractions in the state of Minnesota, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory began offering a free, park-and-ride shuttle service in summer 2009.  The goal of the shuttle service is to ease traffic congestion in and around the park, improve safety, and mitigate vehicle emissions thus improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Five low-emission diesel shuttle buses are utilized on busy days. The shuttle currently operates from May to September.