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Polar bear at Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. (photo by Christy Mazrimas-Ott/CZS)


CZS Staff Taking Part in Polar Bears International Leadership Camp
Chicago Zoological Society staff Agnes Kovacs, manager of school groups and teacher programs, and Steve Pine, communications manager will travel to the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, in early October for a week-long Communicators Leadership Camp sponsored by Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation group. The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is part of PBI’s network of Arctic Ambassador Center Zoos, selected Pine and Kovacs based on their roles in communicating to the general public and zoo guests as well as educating teachers and students about the importance of conservation and environmental issues. They will join 17 other educators and public relations professionals from the U.S. and Canada.

“Zoo communicators have the ability to reach a wide audience with a conservation message,” said Robert Buchanan, PBI president and the Chicago Zoological Society’s 2010 George B. Rabb Conservation Medal recipient. “They spend a week on the tundra during the fall polar bear migration on the shores of Hudson Bay. They stay at the Tundra Buggy Lodge—with polar bears just outside—to learn about polar bears, climate change, and how each of us can help. From this remote location, they stay connected to the rest of the world through their blog at Before returning home, each Ambassador creates an individual action plan to help reduce CO2 in their community.”

Brookfield Zoo followers will also be able to track field reports and updates from the Leadership Camp participants at and on the zoo’s Facebook and Twitter sites. At Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Zoological Society’s new 7.5-acre, state-of-the-art naturalistic habitat Great Bear Wilderness already features a strong connection with polar bear conservation, along with other iconic North American animals, and highlights essential conservation efforts from partners such as PBI. Built to meet the Manitoba standards for polar bears in zoos, Great Bear Wilderness features a 3,600-square-foot underwater viewing area that immerses guests in an Arctic setting, providing face-to-face encounters with polar bears.

“Both of our organizations recognize the increasing need for education and research, as well as the importance in motivating people to protect the world’s threatened wildlife and ecosystems,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “PBI is making a difference on many levels in protecting the polar bear and its habitat, and by communicating their work in our Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, we’re reaching millions of visitors with these crucial conservation messages.”

Strahl added that CZS invests time and resources for staff to participate in these types of programs because CZS and PBI have parallel missions to inspire conservation leaders. “We encourage staff to continuously educate themselves and others about wildlife conservation and these types of programs are a perfect fit.”

Having the chance to see polar bears in their natural habitat—and to learn first-hand about arctic climate-warming—is a transformative experience for Leadership Camp students. The goal of the camp is to inspire, inform, and empower zoo professionals to advocate for environmental stewardship in their home communities.

Kovacs is one of the participants who will also serve as a camp facilitator. She will have the additional responsibility of playing a leadership role during the week-long camp. Kovacs says she is excited by the opportunity. “This will be a unique chance to take part in a collaborative, mobile classroom right on the tundra. Our goal is to form action plans, take the lessons learned back to the Brookfield Zoo community, and add to our zoo curriculum and educational programs about climate change and polar bear conservation. We are striving to find what works on an emotional learning level to help people take timely action to comprehend the effects of climate change.”

Pine is equally thrilled at the chance to take part in the camp. “Polar bears are a symbol of climate change and this camp is an exceptional way for us to learn firsthand about the effects of global warming and observe polar bears in their natural environment on the tundra. We want to bring back new ways to reach visitors, onsite at Brookfield Zoo as well as online, about everyday actions people can take to reverse global warming and reduce their carbon footprint.”

The Chicago Zoological Society was invited to send representatives to the camp because of its role as a PBI Arctic Ambassador Center Zoo. These centers focus on animal being and enrichment, take a leadership role in stewardship and carbon reduction efforts in their communities, and participate in PBI polar bear research efforts. Many also help support polar bear conservation through the PBI Polar Bear Sustainability Alliance.

Two CZS staff members have previously experienced polar bears in their natural habitat in northern Manitoba at PBI’s Leadership Camps. One of its youth volunteers, Katie Billing, was selected to represent the Society during a Leadership Camp trip in 2008, and in addition, a senior keeper in Brookfield Zoo’s Mammal Department, Christy Mazrimas-Ott, traveled twice to Churchill to serve as a guest lecturer aboard the famed Tundra Buggies.

“Outreach by institutions such as Brookfield Zoo can make an enormous difference in motivating the public,” Buchanan said. “If we are serious about conserving polar bears and their ecosystem we need to act quickly—and our Arctic Ambassador Center Zoos and Leadership Camps play an important role in inspiring change.”

The Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, inspires conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Open every day of the year, Brookfield Zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA, and PACE bus service.

Polar Bears International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of the polar bear and its habitat through research, stewardship, and education. Visit their web site to learn more about their mission and the upcoming 2010 Leadership Camps at

Frontiers North’s Tundra Buggy® Adventure (FNA) is a PBI Platinum-level corporate partner that has sponsored PBI Leadership Camps since their inception. FNA provides authentic adventures in Canada’s north and boasts the best access in the world to wild polar bears. Since 1987, FNA has created programs geared to accommodate small groups of travelers with specific interests in experiential travel, photography, culture and adventure. Visit their web site at