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Zoo’s sloth bears leaving exhibit after this weekend, will be back in new exhibit in 2014

Woodland Park Zoo’s sloth bears will entertain visitors for the last time in their current enclosure this weekend. Then they’ll be off display until moving into their new Asian tropical forest exhibit in 2014.

Photo by Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo.

Randy, the 16-year-old male sloth bear, came to the zoo in June of 1996. Tasha, a 7-year-old female, has lived at Woodland Park Zoo for just under a year. She made her move in October 2011 under a breeding recommendation by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for sloth bears.

Sloth bears – native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka – are an endangered species. Fewer than 10,000 remain in the wild. Their survival is challenged by fragmented populations, deforestation and the bear parts trade. Sloth bears are very rare in zoos, with fewer than 50 currently living in North American zoos.

The two sloth bears will remain off exhibit during the construction of the new, 2-acre exhibit complex that will feature Malayan tigers and Asian small-clawed otters in addition to the sloth bears. The zoo’s last Sumatran tiger passed away in August from age-related health problems. The tiger exhibit will also be reconstructed to accommodate Malayan tigers in 2014.

Designed by Bainbridge Island-based architects Studio Hanson/Roberts, the $19.6 million exhibit project, the final and most ambitious initiative of the zoo’s $80 million More Wonder More Wild Campaign, will transform the 60-year-old, outdated infrastructure that tigers and sloth bears currently inhabit at the zoo into a spacious, naturalistic exhibit environment. The transformation will improve the exhibit experience for the zoo’s animals, visitors and staff, and will reduce resource consumption with sustainable design.

The exhibits are expected to open in two phases, with construction beginning this month. Phase 1 is scheduled to open in 2013 and will feature small-clawed otters and a kids’ nature play area. Phase 2, anticipated to open in 2014, will spotlight endangered Malayan tigers and sloth bears.