Binky (polar bear)
Binky with tourist's shoe in his mouth
Alaska North Slope
|Died||July 20, 1995 (age 20)
Binky (1975 – July 20, 1995) was a polar bear who lived at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Found as an orphan on Alaska's North Slope, he was taken to the zoo and quickly became one of its most popular attractions. He became a local hero and received international news coverage after mauling two zoo visitors in separate incidents in 1994. Binky died in 1995 from sarcocystosis, a parasitic disease.
Binky was found orphaned on Cape Beaufort, North Slope, Alaska in May 1975 and was rescued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He was then given to the Alaska Children's Zoo (later the Alaska Zoo) in Anchorage, where he quickly became one of the zoo's most popular attractions. His keeper commented in 1976 that Binky was a performer and cried in the evenings when his applauding, laughing visitors left for the day.
Binky was initially placed in a 13 foot by 20 foot oval cage, which he quickly outgrew. The prospect of raising the estimated $150,000 needed for a new, larger enclosure was uncertain, and zoo officials feared Binky would have to be sent to the Milwaukee Zoo. A fundraiser and open house were held to raise money for the effort, and "school children, civic organizations, and businesses rallied around" the bear. Ultimately, the greatest contribution to the zoo's effort was the city's purchase of the zoo land for $100,000, which the zoo agreed to buy back in 55 annual installments of $2,500. Binky's new enclosure opened in May 1977. That year, Binky made an appearance as "my dog Spot" in one of Cal Worthington's car dealership commercials.
As Binky approached sexual maturity, zoo officials negotiated for the purchase of a female polar bear named Mimi from the Tulsa Zoo in Oklahoma. As the transfer was being finalized, however, Mimi died from a viral disease in Tulsa. In February 1979, young polar bear twins (Nuka, a female, and Siku, a male) joined Binky in his enclosure. Binky got along poorly with Siku, however, so Siku was given to a zoo in Morelia, Mexico in 1981.
As a full-grown bear, Binky weighed 1,200 pounds. He was an aggressive bear; in 1980, he bit off a zoo employee's finger. His keeper commented in 1983, "Binky is stubborn [and] independent, and he likes to play games. When he's really feeling obstinate, he walks halfway into his den and sits down. He knows I can't close it. He's a very smart bear."
Maulings, celebrity, and death
In July 1994, 29-year-old Australian tourist Kathryn Warburton jumped over two safety rails to get a close-up photograph of Binky in his cage. When Binky stuck his head through the bars and grabbed her, she suffered a broken leg and bite wounds. Another tourist caught the event on tape. Binky kept the woman's shoe for three days before it could be retrieved by zoo officials, and the day after the attack Alaska Star photographer Rob Layman took the iconic image of Binky, holding the shoe in his mouth, that was printed in almost every press account of the incident. Warburton gave the other shoe to the Bird House, a bar in nearby Bird Creek that has since burned down.
Six weeks later, Binky was involved in another mauling. Drunken local teenagers approached the bear's enclosure, apparently hoping to swim in its pool, and one 19-year-old was hospitalized with leg lacerations after he was mauled. The zoo could not confirm that Binky was the attacker, but only Binky—not Nuka—had blood on his face following the incident.
After these attacks, Binky received international news coverage and became a hero in Anchorage. Binky merchandise was popular, including T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers, often adorned with the iconic shoe photo or with the slogan "Send another tourist, this one got away". Local letters to the editor supported Binky during both incidents, most often arguing that polar bears' dangerousness should be respected. The Zoo's director, Sammye Seawell, criticized Warburton's actions in the Anchorage Daily News, saying "[s]he violated the rules and jeopardized the bear's life." Though Seawell initially insisted that the attack would not change how the zoo was run, security around Binky's cage was upgraded to keep zoo visitors out.
In 1995, Binky's cagemate Nuka suddenly became sick with sarcocystosis (a parasitic disease), dying from associated liver failure on July 14, a week after her symptoms began. Shortly thereafter, Binky showed signs of the disease. On the morning of July 20, he went into convulsions and died. Zoo visitors left bouquets of flowers outside the bears' empty enclosure, and turnout at the zoo's memorial service was "astonishing" despite pouring rain. The bears were buried on zoo grounds.
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- "Cheers and jeers". Anchorage Daily News. October 27, 1994.
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- Stan, Jones (July 28, 1995). "Bears' death traced to sarcocystis, a rare parasite". Anchorage Daily News. p. A1.
- "Some Alaska Zoo animals getting old". Peninsula Clarion. December 3, 2000.
- Sullivan, Patty (December 20, 1997). "Zoo to hold open service for Annabelle". Anchorage Daily News. p. D1.
- Phillips, Natalie (October 8, 1996). "Jackie the brown bear, ailing with cancer, is euthanized". Anchorage Daily News. p. B3.