Monday, December 27, 2021

Farewell to Katjuscha




It is the end of an era. The Berlin Zoo polar bear habitat's probably final resident, 37 year old Katjuscha, has passed away. She had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time, and had been treated for it, but now, the oldest polar bear in the world had come to the end of her days. She was found by her keepers, in her den, on Christmas Eve morning, it was announced today. She had peacefully died in her sleep.

Kati, during her afternoon walk. 

She had turned 37 years old November 16, and she was given a small party with a treat.

She was known for her beauty and grace. Visitors would often see her just sitting in the doorway, watching the world go by.

Katjuscha, watching the world go by

Last year, there were two other lady polar bears in the world who had reached the age of 36: Snow Lily in Milwaukee, and Winnie in Japan, both just several weeks younger than Katjuscha. Now all three are all gone.

Kati at teatime, in 2014.

Katjuscha was born in 1984 in Zoo Karlsruhe, the daughter of Nadine and Willie. Nadine and Willie were also the parents, five years later, of Antonia, the famous dwarf polar bear. Also in 1989, Willie became the father of Nancy, one of Katjuscha's lifelong companions in the Berlin Zoo, and also Anton, father of Wilbär.

Tosca in front, Katjuscha in the middle,
 and Nancy, top, sleeping, in 2014.

Katjuscha came to Berlin when she was almost a year old, and remained there all her life. At one time, she was part of Lars' harem, the three ladies of the Berlin Zoo: Nancy, Tosca and Kati. The four bears made for quite a sight for Berlin Zoo visitors.

Katjuscha in 2014, the fluffy one.

Tosca and Lars' son, the famous Knut, was part of the group for a short time too, after Lars left, until  young Knut died from a brain disease which tragically caused him to fall into the water and drown.

Katjuscha watching Nancy and Tosca from her doorway.

After that sad event, it was just the three ladies of  the Berlin Zoo. Tosca and Nancy seemed to be best friends, and Katjuscha was on her own. We lost Tosca and Nancy a few years ago, but Kati continued on, well past the expected age of a polar bear.

Katjuscha in her kingdom in 2019

Now she is gone too, and the polar bear area is empty, save for the nearby memorial sculpture of Knut. 

It is truly the end of an era.

Rest in Peace, sweet lady.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Marty's journey has ended



Marty, the father and grandfather of so many cubs, has died at the Toledo Zoo, where he has lived most of his life.

Marty's handsome face

Marty was born to Arki and Australian born Aussie in the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago on November 25, 1996. He moved to Toledo when he was two years old. In 2000, just as the newly constructed  $11.5 million Arctic Encounter was opening, 16 month old Crystal arrived in Toledo from Belgium. In 2001, wildborn Nan, age 6, came to Toledo.  

Marty wonders who is that other bear?

Marty and his reflection, in the ice room.

When Crystal gave birth to twin girls, Aurora and Anana, and Nan gave birth to son Nikita in in 2006, the Toledo Zoo was a bit crowded, so Marty moved to the Pittsburgh Zoo while Crystal and Nan raised the cubs. then he returned to Toledo at the end of 2008, where he has stayed ever since. 

Marty swimming, back in his more active days

Nan had had no more cubs, and now is retired at Como Zoo, but Crystal has been a prolific mother, giving birth to Siku in 2009, twins Suka and Sakari in 2012, Hope in 2015, and Bo in 2018. There may yet be another cub or two, as Crystal dens up this fall and winter.


Marty's daughters Aurora and Anana have been prolific as well, Anana is mother to Amelia Gray, and Aurora is mother to Nora, twins Nuniq and Neva, and Kulu in the Columbus Zoo. Suka gave birth to twins Astra and Laerke in the Detroit Zoo.


Marty is fondly remembered by his many friends in the Brookfield Zoo, where he was born, and where his brother Hudson still lives. His other brother Payton lives in the North Carolina Zoo. 

Marty gives Nan a little kiss

Marty, front, snuggles Nan

He was a gentle giant, always kind and considerate of his ladies.

Marty napping in mid-August

Marty goes for a lazy dip on a warm day this past August

I last saw Marty in August. He was quiet, mostly sleeping. I wondered then if it was just because it was a warm day, or if he wasn't feeling well. He did go into the pool, but then he just floated there, awake but not wanting to play or swim.

Marty had been diagnosed with failing kidneys several years ago, and last Thursday, the vets put him under to examine him. They determined that his kidneys had gotten to the point where Marty's quality of life was impacted, so he was euthanized.

Marty was  massive bear

We now have only 40 polar bears in U.S. zoos. Marty was one of only three males known to have fathered cubs.

Marty's paw in August, as he slept.

With the exception of Luna, all the cubs born in the U.S since 2005 are either Marty's children or grandchildren. He will be missed but his great legacy lives on.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

A unique friendship in Detroit

Laerke and Jebbie

The Arctic Ring of Life at the heart of the Detroit Zoo is home to a most unusual polar bear family these days. 


Laerke in the pool, Jebbie on shore.

It is an amazing sight you will not see anywhere else, a polar bear cub happily cavorting with a young grizzly. When the Detroit Zoo announced it had found a suitable companion for the handraised polar bear cub Laerke (pronounced Lyraca), the world took notice. This unusual pair has won hearts everywhere.

Mother Suka and cub Astra in early August, in the Tundra section.

Throughout the spring and summer, Mother Suka and daughter Astra enjoyed the rolling hills and wildflowers of the Tundra area, while Papa Nuka occupied the Pack Ice area, often watching Suka and Astra from across the moat.


During this time, the mystery cub Laerke was not seen by the public. The small cub had been nearly lifeless two days after her birth last November, when she was whisked away to the zoo hospital for special care. The zoo hoped to locate another bear her age who was alone, maybe an orphan, so Laerke could develop bear social skills.

Astra and Suka

Astra plays with her mom in the big pool.

In August, keepers determined that Astra, weighing a hundred pounds more than her twin, was old enough to swim in the deep pool of the the Pack Ice section. Papa Nuka would spend his days in the Tundra meadow. Laerke remained inside, but by this time she had a furry companion.

Jebbie the Grizzly cub

In June, grizzly bear cub Jebbie had been found wandering alone in an Alaskan village. The local people gave him this name, maybe named after the character in the children's tv show "Littlest Pet Shop." At just 76 pounds, he was too young to survive on his own, so he was taken to the Alaska Zoo for medical care  and recovery from his ordeal. Keepers from the Detroit Zoo flew to Alaska to bring Jebbie to his new home at the Arctic Ring of Life, one of the best polar bear habitats in the world, where Laerke was waiting.


Jebbie, a Grizzly bear, is an omnivore.

After a suitable quarantine period for Jebbie, the two cubs were gradually and carefully introduced. Laerke's caretaker observed that Jebbie must have had siblings, for he knew how to play like a bear cub right away, but Laerke did not, and Jebbie had to teach her. The two shared toys, swam in the indoor pool, and created a bond. 

Side by side. Jebbie is almost 60 pounds heavier.

Laerke and Jebbie

In late September, at long last, 10 month old Laerke was introduced to the public along with her companion Jebbie, in the Tundra area, which has a small freshwater pool. 

Suka and Astra in the saltwater pool in the Pack Ice section.

Astra destroys a ball in the pack ice section.

These days Mama Suka and Laerke's twin sister dive and  chase each other through the vast saltwater pool, while visitors gaze in wonder from the underwater viewing tunnel.

Gentle Papa Nuka in the Tundra meadow,
 doesn't mind the peacocks nearby.
The two cubs cannot come out until Papa Nuka comes in.

In the late afternoon, Papa Nuka wanders around the Tundra, often napping in the sun. Sometimes his mate Suka stands across the way and they send secret messages. 

When the keepers call Nuka to come inside in the morning, then the seemingly mismatched playmates can come out, a polar bear cub and a grizzly. And that is when things get really exciting. These two can play all day. They chase, wrestle, tumble around, run after peacocks, just have the most amazing fun together. They wear each other out.

Astra watches with envy at all the fun being had at the party next door.

Jebbie is interested in Astra, would like her to come play too.

Astra, way over there, is dirty after playing by herself in the mulch pile. 

Sometimes Mother Suka and Laerka's twin sister Astra watch the two cubs play from across the moat dividing the two areas, and Astra looks a little jealous, for there is this fun party going on in the Tundra area, and she's not invited.

Suka and Astra watch the action of the neighbors..

As for Suka, she likely does not recognize that Laerke is her missing cub.

Twin sisters and strangers. Astra far, Laerke close.

Jebbie and Laerke are being watched by Astra.

There are no plans to introduce Laerke and Jebbie to the Pack Ice area, for Grizzly bears are not marine animals, and Laerke needs supervision.

Jebbie follows, Laerke takes the lead.

He goes wherever she goes.

Jebbie is all wet,


Poolside. Maybe finding some carrots.

Yep, there's a carrot!

Laerke's latest weight is 160 pounds, and Jebbie is gaining faster, now at 208 pounds. Still, they seem well matched. I noticed that Laerke is usually the leader, and Jebbie follows.  They love to wrestle, and sometimes Jebbie chases Laerke. She just jumps into the water then, and Jebbie circles the edge of the pool, for he doesn't want to get his head wet. He will go into the pool, but usually doesn't stay long.

They are very well matched,
 even though Jebbie now has the weight advantage.

Happy together.

Jebbie loves to play with his friend, but he is very good at entertaining himself too, rolling on his back and playing with his toes is a favorite game.

Jebbie is fascinated by his paw. His claws are much longer.

For Laerke, who sees her primary keeper as a parent, it has been hard to grow up. Physical contact without barriers ended at seven months for safety reasons, but she still relies on him, crying sometimes if she can't see him, and brightening up when she spots Rick. 

Laerke spots Rick, her "daddy" probably coming with a bucket of treats.

Jebbie, who didn't bond with humans as an infant, is much more independent. He is happy to get the toys and the food, but would rather play with Laerke or just be off on his own.

Laerke is usually the bear in the lead, as they march around the meadow. Jebbie follows close behind.

Horseplay, bear style. Laerke was standing on the side of the pool, and Jebbie pushed her in!

The two cubs are put in separate bedrooms when it is time to rest, because Jebbie would just keep going, keep wanting to play, and no one would get any sleep.

Nuka foams up when he eats carrots, probably because he is missing part of his tongue. Laerke looks like her papa.

Visitors to the Arctic Ring of Life may or may not see the dynamic duo, because Nuka is given the Tundra area at night, and he doesn't always want to return to the bedroom area in the morning. I visited for two days, and didn't see Jebbie and Laerke until the second day because Nuka wanted to nap in the sun all day on my first day.

Play ball.
Here's Jebbie in the pool, but he keeps his ears dry.

These cubs may both be bears, with much in common, but grizzly bears are omnivores and land mammals, while polar bears are carnivores and marine mammals. Jebbie has very long claws, compared to a polar bear, and grizzly bears are more destructive to their environment (toys). Jebbie jabbed his claws into the weighing scale and broke it, so now they have to get a new scale. 

Carrots for all.

Jebbie and Laerke get the same kind of diet, but Jebbie gets a lot more fruits and vegetables and Laerke gets more fish and meat. They still get formula, not in a bottle anymore, but in a pan. Laerke's formula has some additional nutrients like salmon oil for marine mammals.

Jebbie likes fish too, but not as much as Laerke, who is a carnivore.

During my visit, all the bears got their favorite treat, carrots. Jebbie got some romaine lettuce. Jebbie and Laerke were given fish. This time of year, they get pumpkins too.

Grizzly bear males are always neutered when in zoos, for breeding is not allowed. All zoo grizzly situations are reserved for rescued bears. 

Polar bears, on the other hand, are encouraged to breed. This past year, the only polar bear cubs born in a U.S. zoo were Suka and Nuka's twins. Last year, there was just one, Kulu in Columbus, now in the Como Zoo in St. Paul.

What is ahead for these two? No one knows how long they will be able to stay together, hopefully a long time.  The Detroit Zoo is home to grizzly triplet brothers, but they are ten years old and probably wouldn't accept an intruder. 

A bear hug from a friend.

But for now, these two are happy to have a friend to play with, to learn from, and to love.

As usual, Laerke leads the way.