A Different Kind of Polar Bear Experience

Today, is in fact, the International Polar Bear Day!

Hello Polar Bears! Love you...indeed...I do. Such gorgeous creatures. Hopefully, we don't melt away too much more of your world.

In the 1970's, I had my very first job during summer break from high school. I was about 15...maybe 16. Couldn't drive yet, so, my brother would drop me off at work at The Toledo Zoo each morning, and, I would take the bus back home in the evening.

One morning, when I arrived at the front gate, there were police all over the place and yellow tape and after I showed my ID to an officer at the entrance was quickly and quietly ushered in and told to go where I worked in the zoo and keep away from the main gate area and exhibits there.

People are so curious, aren't they? Of course, I didn't do as instructed, and instead, found where all of the other employees were gathering near the police tape.

"What happened?" I asked in a loud whisper.

"Don't know," someone else whispered back.

Finally, we were discovered gathered there and hustled back to where we worked. Later in the day, one of the zoo managers met with us and gave out the sordid details.

During the night, a 19 year old man named Richard Hale, broke into the zoo with a ladder and toy polar bear...or so the story goes. Richard though, did indeed get in and was determined to go make friends with the polar bears. He just loved them so.

Polar Bears can be quite HUGE. This photo of a bear, locked in a staring contest with documentary filmmaker Tristan Bayer, gives us a good idea of their size. Standing up like this, the bear was about 10 feet tall.

Tristan later verified the bear won the contest because of its horrid breath.

A few facts:

  • they are covered in white hair (actually, the hairs are hollow tubes that allow the suns energy directly to the bear's body, helping to keep it warm

  • even the bottom of their feet are covered with fur to help keep them from slipping

  • they are carnivorous, and in the wild, eat mostly ringed seals

  • they can run up to 30 mph

  • the bears are extremely powerful and have been known to stalk humans

Richard Hale, who was apparently on LSD, used a ladder to cross the moat around the bear's "grotto" as it was called then, and went to play with the bears.

His body was discovered, what was left of it, at the bottom of the grotto the next morning.

Whenever I see images or stories about polar bears, I think about poor Richard, and, wonder if his encounter with the animals was what he had hoped it would be. Maybe it was. Perhaps he actually wanted to exit this world being mauled to death by these massive animals he adored so much.

Whatever the reason, or lack of, that got Richard killed, polar bears are amazing animals. Adapted so well for their environment and just beautiful with a stunning coat, and, I have to admit, great mommas for their little, cute, silly, funny, sweet cubs. What's not to love...from a healthy distance?

Enjoy International Polar Day!

Richard...you are remembered, and, I hope that wherever you are, you still have your love of the polar bears, which, I suspect, you do.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014