Binky (polar bear)
Binky with tourist's shoe in his mouth
Cape Beaufort on Alaska's 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. He was originally orphaned near Cape Beaufort, close to the Chukchi Sea, but was found by a driller in Northwest Alaska named David Bergsrud. The area where Binky was located is known to those living outside of Alaska as the North Slope. Alaska Fish and Game was contacted shortly after Binky's discovery, and arrangements were being made to find a zoo in the Lower 48. Anchorage had a small zoo at the time, with an elephant that a lady had won and a few other animals. When word got around that a polar bear cub had been found, folks started hunting for ways to stall the effort of sending Binky outside of Alaska. Time was needed to find a sponsor to fund an enclosure at the Alaska Children's Zoo for Binky. Alaska Fish and Game employees came up with the idea of flying Binky to a number of the inland North Slope villages. School was let out in these villages so all the children could come to the airstrips to see Binky. These received major news coverage. Finally things fell into place to allow the Anchorage zoo to take Binky. Binky 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 near Cape Beaufort, on Alaska's North Slope, in late April, 1975 by an oilfield worker. Efforts were made to locate his mother to no avail. By early May 1975 Alaska Fish and Game were contacted and began arrangements to find a zoo in the "lower 48" as the continental US is called, that would get Binky. Anchorage had a small zoo at the time, with an elephant that a lady had won and a few other animals. As these arrangements were being made to find a zoo in the "lower 48" as the continental US is called, word got around that a polar bear cub had been found, the communities near Nome and people in Anchorage petitioned Alaska Fish and Game to let Binky stay in Alaska. Anchorage had a small zoo at the time, with an elephant that one of the founders had won and a few other donated animals. AF&G found ways to stall sending Binky outside of Alaska. Time was needed to find a "sponsor" to fund an enclosure at the Alaska Children's Zoo for Binky. Alaska Fish and Game employees came up with the idea of flying Binky to a number of the inland North Slope villages. School was let out in these villages so all the children could come to the airstrips to see Binky. These received major news coverage. Finally things fell into place so the zoo located in Anchorage could take Binky. 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 a number of schools and businesses participated. 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 a photo 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 did not confirm that Binky was the attacker, but the bear had blood on his face following the incident.
After these attacks, Binky received international news coverage. Binky merchandise was created, including T-shirts, mugs, and bumper stickers, often adorned with the 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 the parasitic disease sarcocystosis, 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 the zoo's memorial service saw a high turnout despite pouring rain. The bears were buried on zoo grounds.
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