Metroparks Zoo prepares to open Susie’s Bear Hollow habitat

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is on the cusp of opening its new 18,600-square-foot tropical bear habitat in Wilderness Trek behind Rosebrough Tiger Passage.

Susie’s Bear Hollow is on track for completion this summer, says Zoo executive director Chris Kuhar. “We are in the final home stretch,” he says, noting that construction began on the habitat last July and the project has stayed on schedule.

At nearly three times the size of the previous 7,500-square-foot tropical bear habitat, which was built in 1969 and was one of the oldest exhibits at the zoo, the new habitat spans 18,600 square feet.

The new four-area habitat cost about $8.5 million, with the Cleveland Zoological Society contributing $3.5 million that includes a leadership gift from a long-term donor.

Veteran Metroparks Zoo architectural firms Van Auken Akins Architects and Wichita, Kansas-based WDM architects worked together to design Bear Hollow.

Kuhar says Bear Hollow will give the bears plenty of space and structures—like climbing areas, elevated resting areas, and dig pits—to provide opportunities for the bears to act as they would in the wild. The four habitat areas are connected and can be combined.

“It will provide a significant amount of quality space and climbing space in four exhibit areas,” Kuhar explains. “This ability greatly increases the amount of variety of space that each bear can experience,” he explains. “This will encourage activity and increase mental stimulation of the bears. This greatly enhances our ability to care for these bears.”

Bear Hollow site planBear Hollow site planGuests will be able to get nose-to-nose with the bears through a nearly 360-degree glass viewing area around an immersive treehouse. A separate viewing area will allow guests to get up-close views of animal care staff conducting training for bear health and husbandry monitoring.

Enhancements behind the scenes include new holding dens and maternity spaces to help breeding efforts, as well as indoor, multi-story resting areas to better support nesting mothers or young bears.

Before construction began last year, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo was home to Andean bears Alfred and Cayambe “Cay” and sloth bears Shiva and Balawat.

Alfred, who passed away in 2022, and Cay went to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Shiva is at Columbus Zoo, and Balawat is in an off-exhibit space at the Metroparks Zoo.

Kuhar says they are hoping to have two adult sloth bears and two adult Andean bears when Bear Hollow opens, but it will depend on the needs of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  “Hopefully we’ll get males and females,” he says.

Kuhar explains that the new habitats cater to the behaviors of both the sloth bears and Andean bears. He says the Andean bears, which are the only bears native to South America, look like black bears but with markings around their eyes. “Andean bears are sometimes called spectacled bears because their markings look like they’re wearing glasses,” he says.

They are tree climbers, Kuhar explains, and they often build platforms in trees for sleeping and eating. “So, we’re building higher spaces and structures, and providing them with 3D spaces, which is fun to be able to make,” he says.

On the other hand, the shaggy-coated sloth bears, which are native to Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India, have long claws (like three-toed sloths) and like to dig and climb trees, says Kuhar. “They dig holes to put treats in the ground, and they can hang upside down.”

Both and Andean bear and the sloth bear are listed as vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Metroparks Zoo is working to help conserve Andean bears in the wild through its Andean Bear Conservation Alliance (ABCA). The ABCA works collaboratively with national parks, government agencies, and other conservation partners to protect Andean bears and their habitats.

Susie’s Bear Hollow will open early this summer. “We’re really proud of it,” he says. “It’s great experience for the bears and guests, and it will raise awareness for the bears.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.