Saturday, September 25, 2021

Adieu to Snow Lilly


Snow Lilly in her element.

Snow Lilly's many friends and fans are in mourning the loss of this very special older bear. She was known for her basketball skills, juggling a bright ball above water, and dribbling a ball on the floor of her pool. She was quite  advanced in years, the oldest polar bear in North America, second in age only to Katjuscha of the Berlin Zoo by just a few weeks, but she had kept up her activities, and seemed to be living her best life, right up to the end.  

Snow Lily goes for the win.

Snow Lilly has finished her last ball game. She died on Friday, September 24. 

Snow Lilly

Snow Lilly was born December 5, 1984 in the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, to Penny and Nicklee. She lived in the New York Bronx Zoo from 1985 to 2005. Her older sister Coldilocks died in 2019 at the age of 37.

Snow Lilly watching the sea lions get their fish. She wanted some too.

Her mate was the late Blizzard, brother of the late Little One of the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1991 Snow Lilly gave birth to a boy cub, Tundra, in the Bronx Zoo. Tundra died in 2017, after living his whole life in the Bronx Zoo.

Lots of ball action when Snow Lilly was around.

Snow Lilly moved from New York to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2005, where she lived with Zero, who had been born there in 1989, and then with rescued circus bear Wilhelm. I visited in 2013, and first saw Snow Lilly on her own during the morning.  She went in, and Wilhelm appeared for the afternoon shift. Snow Lilly wanted to have her own space, so the bears took turns.

Snow Lilly

Snow Lilly was a bear who knew how to have fun, especially with a ball. Her keepers gave her lavish birthday parties with special treats, her favorite was crab legs, and she delighted in opening her presents. 

Snow Lilly at her 36th birthday party, opening gifts.
 Photo courtesy of Michelle Rippey

Snow Lilly loved her balls.

Snow Lilly had many fans, and will be greatly missed. There are now no polar bears in the Milwaukee County Zoo. The end of an era. 

Snow Lilly surveying her kingdom back in 2013.

Farewell, lovely lady.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Wuppertal's polar bear home was revolutionary in its day


 9 month old cub Anori, with Mom Vilma above,
in 2012.

Vilma swims in the pool, as little Anori plays
 on the steps of the Art Nouveau architecture
 of her home. 

I cannot think of a polar bear habitat still in use that is older or more stylish than the beautiful Art Nouveau / Art Deco creation of Zoo Wuppertal. It was designed to be a work of architectural art, and built in the early days of the 20th Century, just as the Victorian Age was ending. This multi-faceted exhibit, which has had improvements added over the years, incorporates many features that modern enclosures boast, such as smell ports with sea lions on the other side, underwater viewing window, various levels of diving platforms, and a large swimming area.

                                                    Luka and Anori, 2016

The climbing steps, designed to suggest random ice floes piled one on top of the other, keep a polar bear's back leg muscles strong. Newer polar bear habitats emphasize varied levels, just as this century old design exhibits.

This was one of the first zoo enclosures based upon Carl Hagenbeck's idea of open exhibits for zoo animals, without bars, to give the animals a more natural home. Hagenbeck came up with the idea of using giant wire forms covered with concrete to construct somewhat natural looking exhibits, some with mixed species separated by moats within the exhibit.

                                 Hagenbeck's Polar Panorama.

 The Wuppertal design is even more advanced than Hagenbeck's.  The polar bears are separated from the visitors without the moats that Hagenbeck used as barriers. The designer used granite blocks for the back walls of the habitat.

                                          Overlooking the pool

The Wuppertal enclosure must have been quite the sight in those early days, back when even the Schwebebahn was new. Visitors would have seen an imposing architectural wonder, gleaming white and resembling an alabaster  temple. Nowadays, the paint is peeling, but it still is impressive and the bears seem to love it. Lush vines drape over the stones, adding to the beauty. The vines turn scarlet every autumn. 

I imagine that when the Wuppertal polar bear home was first opened, it had railings instead of the current glass barriers overlooking the pool on both sides.

                                 Vilma and Lars in Wuppertal in 2011

Over a century ago when virtually every other zoo kept their polar bears in cages, or possibly in the newer but still primitive bear pits, Wuppertal built a first class home for polar bears that even now is impressive. It may not meet the very high standards of modern polar bear keeping because of its more limited space and lack of grass, but it certainly is grand. With the addition a few years ago of the mother-cub enclosure out the back with its coziness and soft surfaces, the polar bears get plenty of exercise running back and forth, in addition all the swimming.

The mother-cub room has a lower area which can serve as a shallow pool for a young cub, or be drained for more play area or a mulch pit.

                                                             Anori at 9 months

           9 month old Anori and the underwater viewing window, 2012.

Zoo Wuppertal was founded in 1879, with exhibits in buildings on beautifully landscaped grounds designed by garden expert Heinrich Siesmaye. It continues to be known for its lush vegetation, rolling hills and great variety of trees. The Green Zoo.

                                 Anori (top) and Luka in 2016

The polar bear and seal/sea lion installation, the "Northland Panorama," was the first outdoor exhibits to be built at Zoo Wuppertal, right after the turn of the century, maybe 1910 or before. I haven't been able to find the exact date, but it was very early in the last century. The first polar bear cubs were born in 1931.

One of Wuppertal's more famous residents was Boris, a polar bear with a distinctive craggy face unlike any other. I did not meet Boris, as he died in 2009, but I did visit his daughter Szenja of SeaWorld San Diego. Three cubs he fathered in Wuppertal were Troll (who went to Tierpark Berlin, and died in 2015), 28 year old Candy of Japan, and Szenja, who died in 2017.

                              Szenja in SeaWorld San Diego


Another famous resident of Wuppertal was Lars, father of the famous Knut. He came to Wuppertal in 2009, where he and Jerka, female polar bear, got along well. And then tragedy struck. In 2010, Jerka became deathly ill with a mystery illness, and then Lars as well. Jerka did not recover, and Lars was very sick for weeks, but slowly regained his health. It was later determined to be a form of herpes from Zebras, maybe carried by mice from the far away zebras to the polar bear enclosure.

When Lars was recovered, another female arrived from Rostock. It was Vilma, and in January of 2012, she gave birth to Anori. Lars went to Rostock then, because Vilma and Anori would need the room at Wuppertal. By that time, the new mother cub room had been constructed. Anori is the only cub to have used it.

Anori's birth created quite the stir. Long lines formed to get a glimpse of this little girl when she was old enough to be presented to an adoring public. The press was there too, and photographers just couldn't get enough photos.

In 2013, Vilma moved to Rostock where Lars was waiting for her. They later had another cub, Fiete, who now lives in Hungary. Lars fathered a set of twins, Qilak and Nuka, in Aalborg Denmark. Vilma and Lars are gone now.

Anori's cousin from the Netherlands, Luka, arrived to be playmate for the nearly three year old cub. 

                               Water games with Luka and Anori.

Anori and Luka spent seven years together in Wuppertal, and always seemed to be having a grand time. They had inventive toys and enrichment, and loved to run from the pool area through the house and out to the mother cub area, then back again. There were pool games and contests, a tug of war, playing tag around the raft, always something to do. Birthdays were celebrated with huge colorful cakes and even more new toys, with cheering and singing by crowds of fans on those wintry party days.

                                                   Anori and Luka (in back)

But recently zoo officials decided that the time had come to close down the old polar bear habitat, when suitable homes could be found for Luka and Anori. It didn't meet the standards set by the newer enclosures, and it requires a lot of water, which is expensive in the Wuppertal area. 

A year ago, Luka moved to Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the UK, where he has lots of grass to roll in, and three other young males as companions.

Now, Anori is getting ready for her big journey to France. The historic polar bear structure will not go to waste for the sea lions are preparing to move in. They have probably had their eye on the neighboring property for some time!

          There are many levels for play. Here are little Anori and Vilma

The California Sea Lions are just below the polar bears, and will  expand their area, when Anori leaves.


The mother-cub area was a new addition. 

School children get a good luck at the cub, Anori, in the mother cub area

                    Anori standing while Luka watches in the mother cub room

             Walking up from the zoo entrance, there are the polar bears.

After more than a century, this Wuppertal landmark will be closing down as a polar bear home when Anori leaves in the coming weeks.

A traveling box has been placed in her area, so Anori can get used to it. Her new home will be in Mulhouse, France, where she will live with her cousin Sesi and cub Kara. There are two beautiful spacious grassy enclosures there, one with a smaller splashing  pool, and the other has a larger pool with a huge viewing window. As in Wuppertal, the keepers there give the polar bears lots of toys and enrichment, so Anori will be happy.

Luka underwater in 2015

Even with the polar bears gone, the Green Zoo Wuppertal will continue to be a fine place to visit. Their elephant family seems to always have one or two new babies. The interior penguin exhibit up behind the polar bear habitat is new and exciting with a 15 meter long viewing tunnel to see the King and Gentoo penguins, while the African penguins live just across the road from the Sea Lions, and they are a lot of fun to watch. The lion habitat is the largest in Germany and well worth the climb up the mountain to get there.

                   Baby Gus the elephant and his family in Wuppertal in 2019

                                        African Penguins in Wuppertal