The Portage Rotary Club invited retired Assiniboine Park Zoo director, Doug Ross, to speak at its weekly lunch meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

"I always feel like I'm from Portage," said the Charleswood Rotary Club member whose parents were born and raised in this city.

Ross spoke about the multi-million dollar expansions that are taking place throughout Assiniboine Park.


He said fundraising efforts have developed from nothing to a full-fledged operation since 2008, thanks to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy group, a not-for-profit board-led group that operates under a management agreement with the City of Winnipeg and oversees fundraising for the restoration and development of the park.

"Everybody loves it (Assiniboine Park)and sees it as their park," he said.

The expansion includes a nature playground, a redeveloped duck pond, renovated zoo exhibits, and an interactive polar bear exhibit called Journey to Churchill.

Investments for these projects came from various sources, including all three levels of government, corporate sponsorships and private family donations.

"It's very exciting for me to see action finally happen," said Ross. "It's going to knock people's socks off."

Ross, an avid polar bear enthusiast, has been most involved with the international polar bear conservation centre called Journey the Churchill. The interactive development, which is slated to open in 2013, is an exhibit that Ross describes as "world leading."

"It sets a new standard for arctic exhibits," he said, adding that the centre will eventually be home to six orphaned polar bears from Canada, and a slew of other arctic animals.

Ross is confident that the exhibit won't deter tourists from travelling to Churchill, but rather serve to educate them before they go.

"Zoos are places where people can see and learn about animals," he said. "But the best place to see animals is in the wild."

Tuesday marked the third time that Ross has been invited to speak to the Portage Rotary Club.

 Story courtesy Shelley Cook, Portage Daily Graphic