ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Lake Superior Zoo throws a party for Bubba and Berlin

Bubba preened before diving into a pool of water to float on his back, while Berlin scratched against a rock before lying down to bask in the balmy 35-degree heat Saturday at the Lake Superior Zoo.

Bubba preened before diving into a pool of water to float on his back, while Berlin scratched against a rock before lying down to bask in the balmy 35-degree heat Saturday at the Lake Superior Zoo.

It was a leisurely 17th birthday for the zoo's beloved pair of polar bears.

Crowds gathered to wish the popular animals well, watch them indulge in "birthday cake" -- frozen juice chunks hiding a fishy surprise -- and view the presentation of a new shiny red ball.

Kate Dean, a zoo member, said her family received an invitation in the mail. Her 3-year-old son, Tommy, took it very seriously and insisted on attending the special bash.

"He's been singing 'Happy Birthday' all day," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Duluth family visits the zoo about once a week, sometimes just to see the polar bears.

"You can get so close to them," Dean said.

The bears enjoy having an audience, said zoo volunteer Jay Krippner of Cromwell.

"They're hams," he said, as he tossed apples into the waiting mouth of Bubba, who was sitting perfectly on his haunches.

The two bears, both residents at the zoo since they were about 8 months old, are not related. Bubba, a male, came from Utah's Hogle Zoo and Berlin, a female, came from the Cincinnati Zoo. In the wild, males and females only interact during breeding season because males attempt to kill polar bear pups when they're with their mothers. But these two get along fine, said volunteer Gerry Krippner, noting that Bubba is the dominant animal.

"During the breeding season, you might hear some roaring," she said.

When Berlin was injured two years ago and was kept at a hospital for an extended period, zookeepers were concerned about reuniting the pair.

"It was like she'd never been gone ... but I don't think he really missed her," Gerry Krippner said.

ADVERTISEMENT

During the birthday song, Bubba swam over to Berlin, perched on a rock, to share the tribute. That camaraderie ended when the new ball was tossed into the pool. Bubba, much more inclined to swim, caught it and proceeded to frolic selfishly, playing catch with the crowd. Berlin watched longingly from the rocks.

A ball for each bear wouldn't make a difference because, "this is his arena right now," Gerry Krippner said, and Berlin understands that.

The $100 balls last about a month before Bubba creates holes in them, but sometimes they don't make it past 45 minutes.

He'll hold it up to find the air hole, and then attempt to make quick work of it.

"His goal in life is to put a hole in the ball and then to get water in it so our 20-pound ball becomes 30, 40 and so on," Gerry Krippner said.

As the celebration wore on, Bubba floated with the ball and wolfed down another chunk of juicy ice.

"He's got his cake and he eats it, too," said onlooker Sandy Monson.

What To Read Next
Get Local

ADVERTISEMENT