|Patches the Polar Bear
The Erie Zoo in Erie Pennsylvania is home to Patches, a sweet-natured 24 year old lady bear.
The enclosure is old, but the zoo has expanded the polar bear area by making available the corner enclosure next door, formerly used by other bears. On the day I visited, in mid-July 2011, the corner enclosure was empty, and the pool was empty too, so Patches was in the original area. I was told that she prefers the corner enclosure, so she can watch the people. She is a real “People Watcher.”
She looks great except that in recent weeks, she has been bothered by biting flies, and she has scratched several itchy spots raw by rubbing on the walls. Then they itch some more, and she rubs on the walls some more, and the sores open up. The zoo is treating the sores, but it is hard to keep the ointment on when she swims and rubs against the rocks.
|Patches rubs on the rocks, scratching the itch
|More scratching for Patches
|Patches seems quite content
Her pool is small, but the water is very clean, as is her enclosure. When I was there, a zookeeper was hosing down Patches' area from above, and Patches didn't mind getting sprayed. I was told that Patches gets enrichment activities in the afternoon. There were no toys in sight, but there is a dry moat in the front of the enclosure, so that limits what the keepers can put into the area. There is a nice resting area above the pool, and Patches seems to like that spot. There is also some sort of stone slide going down to the pool, but I can't imagine a bear using it.
|Patches on the ledge
|Washing down the rocks
|Patches and her little pool
If she gets too hot, she can get into the pool, or retreat to her air-conditioned quarters.
Patches the Polar bear arrived December 11, 2007 from the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, where she lived with her sister. She was 20 at the time, and had previously given birth to a cub at the Henry Doorly Zoo, but it did not survive.
The Erie Zoo had just lost Alcor, one of twin brothers, and only Mizar, age 9, was left. Alcor had broken his leg in August, 2006, and had surgery, but died shortly afterwards. It was hoped that Mizar and Patches could have a family. Unhappily, Mizar died a few months later of a ruptured spleen.
Later that year, Norton arrived on loan from the Detroit Zoo. The people at the Detroit Zoo doted on Norton, and hated to see him go. Patches did become pregnant, and in the winter of 2009, Patches gave birth to a stillborn cub. Norton, at age 23, died in early September, 2010, from a hernia, a tear in the abdominal wall. He had been there two years. The Erie Zoo had hoped that Patches would give birth last winter, but that just didn't happen.
It is so hard to find a zoo polar bear in the United States, so Patches, twice a widow, may be alone for some time.