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Zoos of the Past


TMJ1st Bear Drowning1023

What would happen if you ran a zoo and decided to put all the big scary American mammals in the same enclosure together? America found out the answer when a former natural history museum curator took over the Milwaukee zoo and decided that real life should look like a cool museum exhibit. The result? Well…..

The showplace turned into a horror show on October 22nd, 1932. A polar bear cub pushed a black bear into the pool and plunged its head under water in front of 100 zoo goers. The black bear struggled for air and howled. Another polar bear cub joined to take turns shoving the black bear under the surface. In the next half-hour, the rubbernecking crowd swelled to 500 as another polar bear, four other black bears, three grizzlies and three wolves encircled the pool as the black bear lost his life.

A grizzly snatched the carcass and began to disembowel it in front of shocked spectators. The other grizzlies, polar bears and wolves tried to snatch a bite. Nearby, Venice the elephant smelled blood and trumpeted her trunk in distress.

Zookeepers struggled to drive the bears away with a water hose. They threw a rope around the lifeless body, but it broke. With a stronger rope, they pulled the carcass down into the moat away from the shared den’s denizens. The Fire Department arrived and removed the mutilated carcass with grappling hooks.

After returning from out-of-town, Heller asserted that the black bear’s death was not malicious, but a “playful accident” and “won’t happen again in a million years.” Then he whinged “We don’t want the firemen and we don’t need their help.”

Tragedy struck again nine months later on July 21st, 1933. Another polar bear cub knocked a black bear named Jerry into the pool and held his head under water with his paw. Heller and zoo attendants quickly responded to zoo visitors yelling for help. It took time to drive the bears and wolves into separate cages before they could pull lifeless Jerry out of the pool with poles. Heller said black bears would “become educated” that it is “dangerous to hang around” the pool with polar bears nearby.

Only a month later on August 23rd, 1933, the polar bears struck again. They shoved another black bear into the pool and prevented it from escaping before they started to eat it. Since this happened before opening time, it took time before zookeepers arrived at work to lure the bears away with food and water hoses. They pulled the carcass out of the pool with pikes.

This zookeeper really knew what he was doing:

Two months later, Heller left to become director of Fleishhacker Zoo (San Francisco Zoo), where he spearheaded the construction of the barless polar bear grotto. Hundreds of spectators watched in terrified disbelief as Big Bill killed his mate Min during the dedication ceremony.

For the most part, the past is horrifying.

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