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!


One Response to “Debby, A Short History”

  1. Deedee James Says:

    I am very grateful and fortunate enough to have seen Debby 3 months before she passed away on our VIP behind the scenes tour of the zoo. I’ve been coming to the zoo for over 25 years, and always making sure to see the bears as my first part of my zoo trips.
    It has always been very wonderful experience and I’m so grateful to the zoological society for starting the behind the scene tours of the zoo this past year. I was one of the lucky ones to see Debby up close and see how much care was given to her and all of the animals at the zoo. It was the best way to spend my 30th birthday and I can’t wait to do it again in August.

    Thank you


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