Minnesota Zoo “Russia’s Grizzly Coast”

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Awarded the AZA Exhibit of the Year award for 2009, Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo is defined as a circumnavigation of the Sea of Okhotsk on Russsia’s eastern seaboard, and features the wildlife of each zone around the sea. Sea otters swim off the Kiril Islands; grizzlies comb the hillsides and fumaroles of Kamchatka’s volcanically-active mountain range; wild boars and deer range in Khabarovsk; and endangered Amur leopards occupy the forests of Primorye, south of Vladivostok.

Jan Coleman worked with the project team to define each zone with identifiable geologic and geographic features – so that grizzly bears are observed by visitors from inside a lava tube as the bears cavort among bubbling mud pots, storm wrack is piled within the visitor walkway, and wild boar can be watched from inside an authentic Russian log cabin. Jan also applied a culturally accurate overlay to the exhibit’s structural elements and graphic panels. She introduced panoramic photos of the geographic zones, along with wildlife images and sculptures, to enhance the visitor’s understanding without resorting to text.

In a follow-up evaluation commissioned by the zoo, visitors were observed to have gained a substantially deeper understanding of the environmental issues at work in the Russian Far East, reinforcing the idea that details within the proximate environment of the zoo visitor do, indeed, add value to the visitor’s experience.