Tails From The Zoo

Debby, A Short History November 27, 2008

A Short History:

Debby the polar bear was accepted into the Guinness World Records Book for 2008 – at 41years of age, she was the oldest living polar bear. The longevity record for a polar bear is 43 years, 8 months is still held by Doris, a wild-born female who lived at the Detroit Zoo from 1948-91. Debby was featured in countless media articles and shows, posed for thousands of photographs, contributed to several research studies. What is responsible for her extraordinary longevity? Excellent genetic inheritance, special care by devoted zoo keeping and veterinary staff and proper diet and exercise. Her most significant health problem were two root canals performed by Dr. Vaughan Glover in 1989.

Significant Dates:

1965 – Skipper, a male polar bear whose mother was shot on Baffin Island, arrives in Winnipeg with great fanfare and becomes a major attraction at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

1967 – Debby and Dennis, a pair of orphan bears from Russia, arrive in Winnipeg via the Tillburg Zoo in Holland. Debby becomes Skipper’s mate, while Dennis is moved to the Calgary Zoo in 1971.

1975 – Debby’s first cub, a male, is sent to Kyoto, Japan.

1977 – Debby has two more cubs, one male and one female. Both are sent to Ruhr, Germany.

1982 – Debby has two female cubs. Both are sent to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

1985 – Debby’s sixth and final cub, a female, is sent to Sendai Yagiyama, Japan.

1999 – Skipper dies at age 34 of cardiovascular problems. His ashes are scattered on Baffin Island.

2006 – Debby celebrates her 40th birthday.

2008 – Debby is euthanized at the age of 42 on November 17, due to multiple organ failure.

Demonstrating the great adaptability of her species, Debby was active outside every day of the year, braving temperature extremes from wind-chilled -49C in winter to humid +38C summer days.

On a blustery, -30C in December, 2006, a hardy group of people, representing staff of the Zoo and Zoological Society of Manitoba, adoring public visitors, and the media, attended a 40th-birthday celebration for Debby, at which time she was presented with a snow cake topped with a number of smoked goldeye.  She gave every indication of enjoying the event, especially the fish cake. The increase in attention this celebrity garners as each year passes is quite astonishing.  Many visitors, who were youngsters when Debby arrived, were now bringing their children and grandchildren to see this famous and loveable bear.

Even as a senior, Debby still loved to swim and play with a large plastic barrel in her pond, and eagerly awaited the arrival of her zookeeper each day, who provided a variety of tasty food items for enrichment.  Like most bears, her favourite activity was eating, and she was offered quite a variety of foods.  She received a daily ration of fish, moistened dog food, red meats, fish and a few vegetables. Many of these items and special treats, like smoked oysters, soups, salami and veggie-dogs, were donated by local grocery stores. When Debby required medications or supplements she quickly learned to open her mouth to accept, from a syringe, containing her meds dissolved in a high protein health drink.

Skipper (1964 – 1999) and Debby (1966 – 2008) – With us in spirit forever!


Zoo Enrichment Group wins Boomer Ball Contest November 26, 2008

Filed under: Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 10:03 am

The Behavioural Enrichment Committee recently won a contest from the Boomer Ball company. Basically the contest was looking for photos of animals having a wonderful time playing with a Boomer Ball. It turns out that quite a few of our zoo’s animals like these toys and getting a good picture wasn’t hard. The final winning picture was of Kendra, our Siberian (Amur) tiger, playing with her red planet ball.

Kendra the tiger loves her new red planet ball

Kendra the tiger loves her new red planet ball

For more information on Boomer Balls – you can visit http://www.boomerball.com where they make non-toxic heavy-duty balls, mazes, ice floes and other devices for animals even as large as hippos, camels, bears and lions.

This type of toy is just one of the many ways the staff at the Assiniboine Park Zoo are keeping their animals healthy and happy through animal enrichment. I’ll highlight some of the other activities we use over the coming months – plus, look for a special Christmas enrichment event coming up at the zoo.


Facebook groups pop up in honour of Debby November 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 2:40 pm
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With the recent passing of Debby, the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s matriachal polar bear, a number of Facebook groups have sprung up to allow people to remember her.

Facebook Groups in Honour of Debby:

Rest In Peace Debby The Polar Bear From Winnipeg MB, Canada

Current Size: 664 members

World’s Oldest Polar Bear

Current Size: 231 members

RIP Debby the Polar Bear

Current Size: 46 members

R.I.P Debby the Polar Bear

Current Size: 65 members

debby the polor bear

Current Size: 8 members

Debby you will be missed

Current Size: 132 members

Members of these groups are from all around the world and such international attention seems appropriate as polar bears have become such an iconic species in the fight to save endangered species world wide. Debby’s passing was even note worthy enough to be mentioned on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.


I Heart Debby T-shirts! November 20, 2008

Filed under: Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 9:29 pm
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The HOT 103 Zoo Crew Fund in memory of Debby The Polar Bear!

“I Heart Debby” T-Shirts are now on sale with all proceeds going to the Zoological Society of Manitoba.
Get a shirt for only $10 at HOT 103 Studios (3rd floor – 177 Lombard Ave.) now until Friday, Novemeber 21

Make a donation of $20 or more at any Carpathia Credit Union location from Monday, November 24 – Friday, December 5.

950 Main Street / 80-2200 McPhillips Street / A-1341 Henderson Hwy.
There are only a limited number of these shirts available, so get yours before they’re all gone.
“I Heart Debby” T-Shirts support the Assiniboine Park Zoo and keep the memory of Debby the Polar Bear alive!

Thanks Ace and Chrissy for all your love and support of Debby and the Assiniboine Park Zoo!


Debby – In the words of one of her friends and keepers. November 19, 2008

The emotion that Bob is holding back must be immense but this is a very touching video with one of Debby’s keepers and friends.



Celebrating Debby around the world November 18, 2008

Because online news stories don’t always stay front and centre, we are providing the following “news clippings” to help you follow the celebration of Debby’s life that is moving around the world. We have been receiving hundreds of condolences and best wishes from people from around the world who saw Debby over her 42 years at the Assiniboine Park Zoo, as well as others who never met her but now how special she became.

We are providing the stories as is and all rights and copyright remain with their authors.

Debby the polar bear euthanized

Updated: Tue Nov. 18 2008 11:36:53 From: ctvwinnipeg.ca

Debby the polar bear, one of the world’s most-famous and loved bears, was euthanized at the Assiniboine Park Zoo Monday.

Zoo officials say Debby’s medical condition has been gradually declining for several months, but that she remained active and alert until Monday, when a clinical exam indicated multiple organ failure. They say she spent her last moments surrounded by her caring zoo-keepers and veterinarians.

Born in the Russian Arctic in 1966, and arriving at the Assiniboine Park Zoo as an orphaned cub in 1967, Debby spent most of her life with her mate Skipper, with whom she produced six surviving offspring.

When Debby was 41-years-old, she was entered into the 2008 Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living polar bear. At 42 she was within the top three longevity record-holders for all eight species of bears.

“Debby played a dominant role in the Winnipeg Zoo’s animal family for over four decades, generating great public appeal and important contributions to the Zoo’s interpretive programs,” said the zoo in a press release. “She epitomized what one orphaned animal can achieve in promoting the conservation of her species and other wildlife in light of mounting ecological and environmental challenges like global warming.”

Dr. Gordon Glover, Assiniboine Park Zoo’s coordinator, recalled Debby’s ability to “strike magnificent and charming poses,” which resulted in her being featured in many photos and films. “She will be missed by millions of Zoo visitors,” said Glover.

The public is invited to celebrate Debby’s remarkable life at a ceremony to be held in the Zoo’s Animal Tracks Café from Noon to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 22, 2008.

Oh Debby… you were so lovely…

Tue, 2008-11-18 04:33. Ace Burpee, Ace Burpee’s blog

Just a couple of weeks shy of her 42nd birthday, our wonderful Debby the polar bear has passed away. When I first heard I just put my head in my hands and sat there for ages. Then I phoned my mum. I wasn’t sure what to do. I woke up this morning and it’s the first thing that popped into my mind. I’m now convincing myself to celebrate the positives about her life instead of just being sad about her passing. She was so cool. I’m so lucky that I got to meet her. It’s still so vivid in my mind and I’ll never forget it. I’ve been to the zoo alot and just stood there watching Debby… wondering what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling. As soon as I would see her I would smile. I love her. I also told her so to her face so I feel good about that. I suppose I was aware this day would come eventually, but I don”t like to think about things like that. We’re lucky we had her for so long. For most of us, there’s never been an Assiniboine Park Zoo without Debby. She’s been here since 1967. Now she’s with her mate and best friend Skipper, who she’s been apart from for almost 10 years. I love you Debby. Many did.



Filed under: Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 2:36 pm
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There is so much that can be said about a friend that you have known all of your life and yet sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start. On Monday, November 17, Debby the polar bear passed away as the result of the complications of old age. She was surrounded by veterinary staff and by her many loving keepers at the time of her passing.

Debby came to the Assiniboine Park Zoo as an orphaned cub 42 years ago and spent many of those years with her partner Skipper. The pair produced six surviving offspring over their early years and then lived together until Skipper’s death at the age of 34, several years ago. Debby will be remembered by the millions of visitors who saw her and photographed her and affectionately proclaimed her the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Matriarch.

Debby’s passing was due simply to old age. She had been well over the last few years but in slow decline as anyone at such an advanced age would be. In the end, organ failure led zoo staff to make the decision to euthanize her so that she did not suffer the effects of organ shutdown. The Assiniboine Park Zoo is known around the zoo world as the place where many of its animals life very long, record breaking lives. Bobby-Jean, our Javan gibbon was 50 years of age when she passed away last year. Luke the hyena was the oldest hyena on record at his passing at the age of 23. There have been many others and I can only sum it up to the love and care that the animals at that Assiniboine Park Zoo receive from their keepers.

Whether zookeeper, zoo educator, park administrator or even zoo visitor, Debby made an impression on all of us that spent time with her. I will fondly remember the time I was able to spend with her and can only imagine my life is richer for it. If Debby made an impact in your life in some way, you are invited to help celebrate her life at the zoo on Saturday, November 22, from noon to 1 pm at the Animal Tracks Cafe.  Memorials will be set up and there will be an opportunity for you to sign a condolence card.

More information will be available at www.zoosociety.com as details are worked out.

I hope to share more stories about Debby, and Skipper, in future blogs.