Asheboro, NC — It’s a special gift even Santa Claus would have problems loading on his sleigh.

But a different kind of “White Christmas” is in store for North Carolina Zoo visitors when “Patches,” the zoo’s new female polar bear, goes on exhibit for the first time Thursday. The zoo is open daily year round except Christmas Day.

Born in November 1987 at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, Patches was moved to the Erie Zoo (PA) in December 2007. She was transferred to the N.C. Zoo in late November after Erie Zoo officials decided to replace their polar bear habitat with new exhibits featuring other species.

The 26-year-old bear arrived in Asheboro in good health, but brought with her a reluctance to go indoors to off-exhibit holding quarters after closing hours. According to N.C. Zoo Curator of Mammals Dr. Adrian Fowler, Patches’ preference for the outdoors has made it difficult for keepers to access the exhibit for cleaning and other routine maintenance.

A month of diligent training efforts by keepers has greatly improved her willingness to go indoors, Fowler said. But though the exhibit will be open to the public beginning Thursday, hydraulic “shift doors” will remain open giving the bear access to both the exhibit and holding quarters, Fowler added. As a result, there may be periods when Patches will not be in public view.

Prior to Patches’ arrival, the N.C. Zoo had worked with the Polar Bear Species Survival Program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the National Marine Fisheries Service for some time to acquire bears for its polar bear exhibit which has been undergoing an $8.5 million renovation and expansion over the past two years. Patches will be exhibited in the older part of the N.C. Zoo’s exhibit while construction continues on the  expansion areas.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John E. Skvarla, III, Secretary; Pat McCrory, Governor.