Coldilocks, the Philadelphia Zoo's polar bear, is not quite like other bears. Instead of seals — an average polar bear's food of choice — Coldilocks feasts daily on a selection of red meat, fish, and fresh fruit. While most bears live to be about 30, Coldilocks celebrated her 36th birthday in December, making her the oldest polar bear in the nation. And because she was raised in moderate climates, Coldilocks never developed the five extra layers of fat that keep her relatives warm.
As visitors to the zoo will learn at an exhibit opening this weekend, Coldilocks does share one key trait with her kin: Her fur is not white — it's clear.
Starting Saturday, it will be winter at the zoo for nine weeks — at least in some parts of the park. The new "Winter" exhibit includes an outdoor, 120-foot-long sledding slope, warm refreshments, and an indoor play area called the Polar Bear Pavilion filled with man-made snow. Guests can purchase timed tickets for the exhibit, which runs through Aug. 20.
The intent is to teach kids about how different animals cope with snow and cold. Polar bears such as Coldilocks, for instance, grow hollow, transparent hair. Gathered together, the clear fibers reflect light, giving the impression of a consistent white color. Polar bears use the reflecting effects of their coat to blend into their snow and ice surroundings.
Zoo spokeswoman Dana Lombardo said the exhibit would feature several other snow-adapted animals.
"Snow leopards have these tails which work like a scarf. They're very thick," Lombardo said. "The leopards will sit down, curl up, and wrap their thick tails around their neck to keep warm." They also have wide feet, "which work like snowshoes and help them move on top of snow."
Coldilocks and other animals won't be leaving their usual enclosures for the exhibit, but guests can visit the live snow animals — once they're done making snow angels.
The zoo is working with snow-production company Snow Magic, which uses an "independent snow-crafting" (ISC) process to create the same kind of man-made snow found on ski slopes. The only ingredient in ISC snow is water, which will be filtered and recycled throughout the summer to keep the exhibit going.
Although "Winter" highlights the differences in how animals and wildlife fare in cold weather, zoo exec Amy Shearer said it would also underscore similarities — between the animals and the guests.
"No matter which enclosure you're looking at, there's one thing the animals all have in common," Shearer said. "And that's play. Animals like to play in the snow — including us."