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The Chicago Bears are not the only members of the Ursidae family getting attention this weekend. Brookfield Zoo celebrates Bear Awareness Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13, with a series of special-themed activities highlighting the zoo’s three species of bears—grizzly bear, polar bear, and sloth bear—from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. both days.

During the weekend event, zoogoers can learn what makes these animals so special, why they are endangered in the wild, and conservation efforts the Chicago Zoological Society is involved in with wildlife partner organizations.

“At Brookfield Zoo we celebrate Bear Awareness Weekend every day. We have always focused on bears, from our revolutionary polar bear breeding program that began in the 1970s to our innovative approach to animal welfare and well-being,” said Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo. “As we await the opening of the new Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, we have begun to foster partnerships with and support bear conservation organizations, including The Vital Ground Foundation and Polar Bears International.”

Along the Bear Grottos walkway, guests of all ages will have the opportunity to examine bear artifacts up close (including sloth bear teeth and claws), make a card for the bears, and visit with BZ Bear costumed character. In addition, Zoo Chats will take place at the sloth bears (11:00 a.m.), polar bears (1:00 p.m.) and at the grizzly bears during training sessions (11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.). During the chats, guests will discover how CZS is working toward saving and increasing habitat for bears. At the Hamill Family Play Zoo (separate admission applies), youngsters can join in games and other activities that highlight bears’ keen sense of smell, their use of dens, and relax while listening to tales during Bear Story Time.

At noon in the Discovery Center, two of Chicago Zoological Society’s (CZS) staff will talk about their once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Manitoba, Canada, where they gained firsthand insight into the plight of polar bears and helped spread the message about how people can make a difference to the bears’ future. High school student Katie Billing, who is a member of the Society’s Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) and a summer camp counselor at the zoo, was selected to venture to Canada and represent the Society during a Leadership Camp sponsored by Polar Bears International. The conservation organization was also responsible for a two-week trip made by Christy Mazrimas-Ott, a senior zookeeper at Brookfield Zoo. She, too, traveled to Canada, where she served as a guest lecturer aboard Tundra Buggies. While on the famed vehicles, which allow tourists to get almost nose to nose with wild polar bears, Mazrimas-Ott discussed polar bear natural history, as well as conservation and research efforts by Polar Bears International.

Guests can support grizzly bears in the wild with a purchase of Montana Coffee Traders' Grizzly Blend Coffee, a premium-blend coffee that is certified to be both organic and fair trade. The smooth, rich flavor is reason enough to try it but for every pound of coffee sold, Montana Coffee Traders will donate $1.00 to Vital Ground, a Montana-based organization dedicated to preserving grizzly bear habitat by reconnecting isolated fragments of wildlands important for grizzly recovery and biodiversity. The coffee is available for purchase at the zoo’s Wildlife Trading Post gift shop located at the South Gate.

The three polar bears (Aussie and Arki and their cub Hudson) and two grizzly bears (Axhi and Jim) who currently reside at the zoo will be getting some new digs in 2010. This coming winter, some of the bears will move to Great Bear Wilderness, a new state-of-the-art exhibit that has outdoor yards three times the size of the current Bear Grottos. This will allow time for the bears to get acclimated to their new environment before the exhibit opens to the public on May 8. This innovative three-acre North American habitat will showcase conservation, protection, and restoration of prairies, mountains, woodlands and their native inhabitants—polar bears, brown bears, bison, Mexican gray wolves, bald eagles, and ravens. Zoogoers will be able to view the animals from a variety of unique perspectives including over moats, from underwater viewing areas, at face-to-face windows, and from tunnels and bunkers.

The exhibit’s bear area will highlight the life stages of these powerful carnivores and their vulnerability to environmental threats created by a changing world. In the eagle aviary, guests will learn about bringing species back from the brink of extinction and will observe Native American presentations and life-sized graphics showing a bald eagle’s wingspan. In the bison space, guests will experience a close encounter with these legendary animals and discover the impact they continue to have on food sources and Native American culture.