Friday, March 31, 2023

Two polar bear tragedies, more heartbreak

March is the month for hope. Spring is coming, flowers are starting to bloom and the future looks bright.  But also, Beware the Ides of March. And really -- all of March.

This year in March, we lost two bears with big personalities, young girl bears that made us smile and had so much promise for bright futures. And now they are gone, Imaq in Denmark and Milk in Japan.

Imaq of Copenhagen, died this month.
She was only four years old

I don't know why the month of March has become a time for losing beloved bears before their time. For whatever reason, mating season, cubs emerge from the den, change in seasons, the stars aligning badly, we have seen too many tragedies in March.

The Nuremburg Four

The polar bear double enclosure at Tiergarten Nuremburg.

March 30, 2000, four female polar bears visiting Tiergarten Nuremburg temporarily from Zoo Karlsruhe were let out by some intruder, and were wandering about in the woods. To protect the public, the zoo decided they had no choice but to shoot them after attempts to tranquilize failed.  Nadine, Silke, and two other bears were killed. Nadine was the mother of Katjuscha and Antonia. Silke was the mother of Anton, grandmother of Wilbaer.  The four lady bears were visiting Nuremburg while the bear habitat in Karlsruhe was being rebuilt. They never got the chance to return home. 


In 2009, tiny Swimmer, emerged from the den with his mother Huggies and his twin brother Walker on that sunny spring day in Ouwehands Zoo in the Netherlands, and died within the week on March 23, having drowned after blood vessels burst in his chest. In a short time, the world had become enchanted with the videos of little Swimmer and his normal sized brother Walker. Swimmer was about a third the size of his brother, but seemed perfectly healthy. The brothers frolicked at the side of the pool, and Swimmer was just so cute.

Walker and Swimmer were destined for fame, as their birth and early weeks were filmed in the den for David Attenborough's "The Frozen Planet." 

 Here is a link to a story with photos about their first day out.

Huggies with Swimmer and Walker first day out

Then on that Monday, in front of so many visitors, Swimmer was in the pool, went under and did not come up. His mother dove in and brought his body to the shore, and everyone watched while Huggies and Walker grieved for the lost baby.  

Huggies still lives in Ouwehands. Walker lives in Highlands Wildlife Park in Scotland.


Knut the Dreamer, commemorative sculpture in Zoo Berlin,
by Josef Tabachnyk

Knut, famous cub of the Berlin Zoo who was only 4 years old,  died March 19, 2011, after brain incident, then collapsing into the pool and drowning. It was later found to be encephalitis. 

Knut and his twin brother were born December 6, 2006, to retired circus bear Tosca and father Lars. Tosca abandoned the cubs immediately, and the keepers rushed to save them. The brother died, but Knut rose to worldwide fame with photos and videos of his early life with keeper Thomas Dörflein.

Knut was immensely popular, quite a draw for the zoo. He lived with his keeper, then alone for a time. He was happy when young Giovanna came to live with him, but she left and went back to Munich. Knut then moved in with his mother Tosca and two other lady bears, Nancy and Katjuscha, where he was not terrible happy. On that fateful Saturday, in front an crowds of fans, he started walking in circles while on a rock in the middle of the pool, and then fell in. That was the end of him. An autopsy showed it was an inflammation of the brain, caused by encephalitis.

Now there are no polar bears at the Berlin Zoo. Lars, Tosca, Nancy, Katjuscha and Knut are all gone. But the lovely bronze sculpture of Knut the Dreamer continues to keep watch over the polar bear area.

And Knut continues to be a touchstone for all polar bear lovers, and inspired a community of fans and bloggers that continues to this day. 


Fritz, photo by Tierpark Berlin

In Tierpark Berlin, four month old Fritz, son of Tonja and Wolodja, became very ill and died of liver inflammation on  March 7, 2017, breaking many hearts who had seen his adorable photos from the zoo. He seemed perfectly well for most of his short life, and we watched and waited for him to emerge from the den, but after a short illness, he died before he had the chance to venture into the world. 

In 2018, Tonja gave birth to Hertha, named after the Berlin Soccer team. Father Wolodja moved to Rotterdam, but Tonja and Hertha continue to live in Tierpark. 

Tips the Chocolate Bear

Tips of Osnabrück

March 11, 2017, we lost Tips, the beloved chocolate bear of  Osnabruck Germany, leaving behind her twin brother Taps to carry on alone. 

Tips and Taps were born in Zoo Osnabrück, Germany to European Brown Bear mother Susi and Polar Bear father Elvis, who was American born. It was a surprise, as it was thought at the time that polar bears and brown bears could not breed.

The brother and sister, sometimes called the Chocolate Bears, or Hybrid Bears, were a mix of the two parents. The Brown Bear part of Tips wanted to hibernate, unlike polar bears. She spent the winter of 2016-17 denned up, and emerged in early March, hungry, much thinner and able to squeeze through a crack between the bear enclosure and the silver foxes right next door, a crack which seemed impossible. But squeeze through she did, and finding herself outside the enclosure, didn't know what to do. She headed uphill, towards a path leading to the crowded zoo entrance, and the heartbroken keepers felt it was their only choice to shoot her to protect the public.

And now it is just brother Taps who lives in Osnabrück, alone with the silver foxes.

Tips (top) and Taps in 2012.

 Little One and Anana

Little One with Anana

Little One, the oldest male bear in the US at the time, died of old age on March 21, 2021, he was 31 years old. His death was not unexpected, but came on the heels of the news of the death of his beloved mate Anana in Detroit, just weeks before. 


Anana, who was born in the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on December 12, 2000, led a life very much like a soap opera. She moved around quite a bit, experienced some romance, and her life was tinged with drama.

Young Anana  moved from Salt Lake City to Buffalo in 2002.  A mate, the handsome wildborn Nanuq, arrived in Buffalo in 2009, but Anana was very reluctant to warm up to him. She finally decided he was okay, and gave birth to cub in December of 2012 but showed no interest in her baby (Luna, still living in Buffalo). Father Nanuq had left Buffalo before the birth, and Anana left right afterwards, moving to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in early 2013.The Buffalo Zoo kept Luna's birth a secret as the keepers raised the little one, and announced it at a dramatic press conference in the spring. 

At Brookfield Zoo, Anana was alternately paired with old Aussie and his son Hudson. No cubs ever resulted from those meetings.

In 2016 Anana returned to the Buffalo Zoo, where her daughter Luna was now mostly grown, but of course she did not know her daughter. Still, Buffalo Zoo fans were delighted to see Anana again. In Anana's absence, the old bear pits she had known had been demolished, and there was a beautiful new double polar bear habitat, spacious and grassy, so she probably didn't even know she was back in Buffalo.

And then in 2016 Anana she was moved to Cincinnati, where hopes were high that she and a fine older male bear named Little One might have cubs. At first, things were off to a rocky start, as they couldn't stand each other. And then one day, after about a year, in a light bulb moment, Anana discovered that she adored Little One, and from then on they couldn't get enough of each other.

Sadly, no cubs resulted from this pairing, however Anana and Little One did have a fulfilling relationship during their three years together.

But Little One was elderly, and it was feared that yet another breeding season would be too hard on him, so Anana said goodbye to her paramour and went to north to Detroit, where gentle Nuka was waiting. And more drama.

She came to Detroit in early 2020, and had a good relationship with Nuka. Then, on that horrible day in February of 2022, she collapsed from previously unknown heart failure.

The two bears were on the ice pack when Anana collapsed, and Nuka tried to wake her by grabbing her head in his mouth, leaving some superficial wounds. Because of this and the blood, it was first thought that Nuka might have killed her in mating attempts. 

Several months later, the autopsy revealed that Anana had died of heart failure, and Nuka was exonerated. But this further news was not well publicized, and most people continued to believe that Nuka was guilty in Anana's death.

The real story was sent out to Detroit Zoo members, and I published that story, that Nuka was innocent, in my blog. The truth was not published anywhere else, so the original story was still what most people believed, even though it was wrong.

When Nuka moved to Toledo, his reputation preceded him, and people were concerned for their mother bear Crystal, but the truth was finally getting out there. Nuka and Crystal had a successful breeding season, and Crystal gave birth to twins.

The gentle Nuka, once falsely accused, has been exonerated. He has since returned to Detroit.


Milk (Photo by Yasuko Hatano)

Milk, the silly clown of a bear in Japan, was killed in a mating incident at Kushiro Zoo on March 1, 2023.

Ten year old Milk had been getting along just fine with the male, 14 year old Kiruro. On that day, an argument broke out between the two, and escalated. Keepers tried to distract them, using a fire hose. Somehow, Milk's neck was broken. 

Milk was born in Oga Aquarium in 2012, and was a favorite bear of the Japanese public, for she liked to clown around in silly hats, playing with toys in amusing ways, and often standing up like a little person. 

Milk's mother was Kurumi, and her father was Gota, son of Murma and Untai in Moscow. Milk had some well-known  uncles, for Gota is the brother of Rasputin of Tallinn, Kap of Hamburg, and Boris of Skandinavisk Dyrepark. Gota is also the father of two year old Fubuki.

The Kushiro City Zoo where Milk died was inundated with hundreds of bouquets of flowers from the many who mourned the loss of Milk, a very special girl indeed, and the flower tributes continued to pour in all month.

Imaq of Copenhagen

Imaq as a cub in Copenhagen Zoo

And now we have lost four year old Imaq, the delightful cub I met in 2019 in Copenhagen. She was the daughter of Lynn and Nord. In her curiosity in the afternoon of March 8, she broke through a steel gate and found an electrical installation, where she was electrocuted when she chewed on some wires. It was a freak accident, so tragic, and she was so young.

The Copenhagen Zoo is still has Imaq's mother Lynn, as well as Noel and her three year old daughter Inuvik, Imaq's half sister. 

Mother Lynn is the twin sister of Luka of Yorkshire Wildlife Park. Imaq's maternal grandparents are Huggies and the late Victor. Imaq's father Nord (North) was the son of Simona and Wrangel of Moscow. Nord, who died in Finland in 2021, was the father of Nissan, formerly of YWP and now in France, as well as cubs Imaq and Inuk in Aalborg, Beely and Sery of Paira Daiza in Belgium, and the two girls in Copenhagen.

Imaq's death was a freak accident, a sad event that will haunt many of us for a long time. She was a sweet, fun-loving girl. Rest in Peace, angel.