An American Black Bear | from Wikimedia Commons

The adorable red pandas and playful river otters of Sequoia Park Zoo may soon be getting some predatory friends, including black bears. The Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria is proposing to award the zoo and the city $3.5 million for the construction of a bear and coyote exhibit.

The funding agreement, which will be reviewed by the Eureka City Council next week, states that the city would initially foot the bill for construction of the exhibit and Bear River would pay the $3.5 million to the zoo over a three year period, which the zoo would then pay back to the city.

The coyotes and bears would be a part of the native predators section of the Zoo Master Plan, a long-term effort to update and redesign the zoo. The master plan also includes the Redwood Canopy Walk —a proposed walkway of up to 100 feet through the Sequoia Park redwoods —which would also pass above the native predators exhibit.

Map of the Zoo’s Master Plan

But are these animals really a great idea for the zoo? If you’ve been around long enough, you may remember that the Sequoia Park Zoo doesn’t have the best history when it comes to bears. In 1967 a bear escaped from the zoo, causing a panic at a nearby school. Luckily no one, including the bear, was harmed and the creature was eventually coaxed back into its cage. 

More shocking is the story of the zoo euthanizing two bears in 1982 because there was no place to put them during a renovation. But Sequoia Park Zoo does not try to hide this past fiasco (see below) and says that it helped the zoo to shift to more ethical practices.

From the history on Sequoia Park Zoo’s website:

An unfortunate decision by City officials to euthanize two bears during this renovation caused a national outcry and brought pressure to either close the zoo or change how it was operated,” the The community chose the latter and hired its first professional Zoo Superintendent – a pivotal point for the zoo. Responsible management practices began, a Zoo Society was formed and education became a major focus.

The Outpost‘s many questions about the addition of these animals— how many bears and coyotes will there be? Where are they coming from? And, most importantly, when will they be here? — are still unanswered. Attempts to reach someone from the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation were unsuccessful by the time of publication.

Eureka Community Services Director Miles Slattery was reached successfully, but did not want to discuss any details of the exhibit or the funding agreement. Slattery would only say that after the agreement is approved by council it will return to the tribe for review. Slattery said that the city will be making an official announcement once things have been finalized.

The Eureka City Council will review the Memorandum of Understanding between Bear River, the Zoo and the City of Eureka at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m in Eureka City Hall — 531 K Street.

You can view the full agenda here.