Entrance to Detroit Zoo (MJCdetroit – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

Suka and her cub Astra in Detroit Zoo, April 2021 (© Sheldon Lima – not to be used without permission)


Location:  Detroit Zoo, Michigan, USA

Address:  8450 West Ten Mile Road, Royal Oak, MI 48068-0039, USA

Telephone:  +1 248 541 5717

Website contact form:  https://detroitzoo.org/about/contact-us/

Website:  https://detroitzoo.org

Exhibit:  Arctic Ring of Life


Suka (female).  Born 2013.  Arrived Detroit 2018.

Laerke (female).  Born in Detroit Zoo 17 November 2020 (mother: Suka, father: Nuka).

Astra (female). Born in Detroit Zoo 17 November 2020 (mother: Suka, father: Nuka).

This link will take you to an article about the two cubs – see also the second video and a further link at the foot of this page.


In addition to polar bears, the Arctic Ring of Life also houses arctic foxes and grey, harp and harbour seals.  It is one of the largest polar bear habitats in North America and was built to accommodate up to six polar bears. The facility covers an area of 17,000 square metres (4.2 acres).

The exhibit includes the Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage, a 21 metre (70 foot) long acrylic clear tunnel that allows viewing of the enclosure’s underwater  environment. The tunnel is 3.6 metres (12 feet) wide and has a maximum height of 2.4 metres (8 feet).  Polar bears and seals can be viewed; they are separated from each other by a transparent barrier but have the appearance of sharing a single environment. Visitors continue on through a frigid ice cave and finish in the “Exploration Station” which provides additional indoor viewing.

The polar bear exhibits in the Arctic Ring of Life represent three different polar bear habitat types: the grassy tundra, open sea and frozen pack ice. They are divided into two separate areas, the Tundra exhibit and the Pack Ice exhibit, separated by two dry moats.

The Tundra exhibit is dry-moated with a natural substrate planted with arctic grasses and other vegetation.  It covers 2,670 square metres (3,190 square yards) and includes a 114,000 litre (30,000 US gallon) freshwater pool.  There are two gravel daybeds heated or cooled by buried coils and a rocky hillside cave.  

The 2,800 square metre (3,350 square yards) Pack Ice exhibit is a simulated ice and gravel exhibit with a 650,000 litre (170,000 US gallon) saltwater pool.  There are a further two gravel daybeds heated or cooled by buried coils and a shallow stream. 

There is a 720 square metre (860 square yard) holding building for the bears with eight holding rooms with hydraulically operated doors.  There is also a secluded double-chambered  maternity den, a playroom with sunken area for the addition of enrichment substrates, and an indoor pool.

The bears have outdoor access at night and are brought into the holding building each morning for feeding, observation and positive reinforcement training.  During this period the outdoor exhibit areas are cleaned and enrichment items provided.  Food enrichment is provided at random times each day.  Trout are reared on site and released into the bear and seal pools for food and as enrichment.  At least three training and / or enrichment activity are provided each day.

Water is maintained between 10 and 16 degrees Celsius (50 to 61 degrees Fahrenheit) and a complete water change, via sand filters, ozonation and chlorination systems, occurs every 60 to 70 minutes.

The exhibit was designed to set a benchmark for state of the art captive polar bear care, management and exhibition.  Costing just under $16 million, work began in April 1999 and was completed in 2001.  The Arctic Ring of Life was opened to the public on 20 October 2001.

Sources: ZooLex (a service of  the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Bear Conservation research.

For more information click here to go to the ZooLex page for this facility (opens in a new window).


  1.  Captive breeding programme including a recent infant mortaility in 2018.  See Polar bear cub born two days ago dies at the Detroit Zoo. On 8 February 2021 female bear Anana died during a breeding attempt.  See more here.  Previously, in 1988, a polar bear was killed by another polar bear.
  2. The area provided for the bears mets our recommended minimum of 2 acres per animal for the two adult bears but if the cubs remain as adults will no longer do so.  The facility was designed to accommodate up to six polar bears (source: ZooLex).

More Information

The Zoo’s  feeding, exercise, medical and enrichment regimes all appear to be of a high standard. 

The video below was published on 28 February 2019 and features the Zoo’s “Heart Fest” at the Detroit Zoo with the bears in the water retrieving various enrichment items.

The Detroit Zoological Society video below, published on 29 January 2021, shows Suka with one of her two female cubs, Astra, born on 17 November 2020.  The second cub, Laerke, was being hand-reared by zoo staff.  For more on Laerke see this article published on 24 September 2021.

Return to Captive Polar Bear Directory

Page updated 06 April 2022