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Potawatomi Zoo completes $6.2 million bear habitat and concessions lodge

Muniri, a 9-year-old Andean bear explores his environment at the Potawatomi Zoo.
Photo provided, Potawatomi Zoo
Muniri, a 9-year-old Andean bear explores his environment at the Potawatomi Zoo.

Josh Sisk has seen photos from the last time the Potawatomi Zoo had bears over 30 years ago. They were in cages that were too small, without any structures to play on.

But that’s not the case for one of the zoo’s newest big attractions, Muniri — a 9-year-old Andean bear. The zoo recently completed work on a $6.2 million habitat for Muniri which is connected to a new concessions lodge.

To Sisk, who's the zoo's executive director, the improvements further the zoo’s upward trajectory. The lodge can host more and bigger events and receptions and is directly connected to Muniri's environment so people getting food can see him through the glass. The lodge is much nicer than the former concession stand, though Sisk joked they need to get working on serving bear claws.

“It was kind of a win-win for visitors, catering, parties, everything," Sisk said.

On top of the better food venue, the addition of the Muniri comes after other big splashes like bringing back lions last year and a new giraffe enclosure in 2022. Combined over the past six or seven years, Sisk estimates the zoo has put in $20 million into upgrades and new exhibits.

"We went from, in 2018, about 180,000 visitors to 355,000 last year," Sisk said. "We're already 12,000 ahead of that as of May this year. So we're trending in an amazing direction.

Muniri — who zoo staff has nicknamed Mooni — has been at the zoo since last August living in the old lion habitat. He's one of only around 60 Andean bears in the United States and Sisk said the species usually lives to around 25 years.

Sisk said he’s working on getting Muniri a female bear to breed with and in the short term, he hopes to add another male for him to play with by the end of the year.

“We’re still working on the details but we definitely have more bears coming,” Sisk said.

The $6.2 million project was paid for through a combination of state grants and dollars from the St. Joseph County's hotel tax, Sisk said.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.