Orphaned grizzly bear Jebbie, who recently found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo, and hand-reared polar bear cub Laerke explore their home in the Arctic Ring of Life habitat.

Orphaned grizzly bear Jebbie, who recently found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo, and hand-reared polar bear cub Laerke explore their home in the Arctic Ring of Life habitat.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

Alaskan grizzly bear cub joins polar bear cub at Detroit Zoo

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 5, 2021


ROYAL OAK — An orphaned grizzly bear rescued near a neighborhood in Tok, Alaska, is now companions with one of the two polar bear cubs born at the Detroit Zoo in November.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game moved Jebbie, named by the residents who found him wandering alone in June, to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage for care before he ultimately found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo.

The young grizzly bear, who zoo officials estimate to be about the same age as the almost 10-month-old polar bear cubs, arrived at the Detroit Zoo weighing 76 pounds July 16. Today, he weighs 180 pounds.

After a quarantine period and veterinary exam, Jebbie moved to the Arctic Ring of Life polar bear building, where zoo staff gradually introduced him and Laerke, the hand-reared polar bear cub. The two made their public debut Sept. 23 — they can be seen wrestling, playing with toys, digging and swimming together.

Suka, 8, gave birth to Laerke and her sister, Astra, on Nov. 15, 2020. However, shortly after Laerke’s birth, zoo staff decided to remove her as she appeared to be weak and stopped moving. Since then, she has been separated from her mother and sibling while Suka reared Astra.

“Suka is a great mother and very protective of Laerke’s sister, Astra, but it’s clear that she no longer recognizes Laerke as her cub,” Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter said in a prepared statement. “Returning Laerke to her mother and sister is not an option for us.”

Carter said the zoo reached out to out-of-state agencies that frequently must find homes for orphaned grizzly bear cubs, since there are no polar bear cubs the zoo could bring in to live with Laerke.

“We’re thrilled that we are able to give Jebbie sanctuary and provide a much-needed companion for Laerke,” he said in a prepared statement. “This social development is critically important for both Laerke and Jebbie.”

Elizabeth Arbaugh, curator of mammals for the Detroit Zoological Society, said staff taught Jebbie how to swim in a shallow pool, and he gradually built up the ability to swim with Laerke in a deeper pool in their habitat.

“She likes (the water) a little more. We laugh that he doesn’t put his head underwater, so his hair stays fluffy and dry on top of his head,” Arbaugh said. “They are definitely very good companions. They play hard and then sleep hard and spend the great majority of the day together.”

She added that Nuka, the twin polar bear cubs’ 16-year-old father; Suka and Astra; and Laerke and Jebbie all remain separated in their habitat, which contains a grassy tundra, a freshwater pool, a “pack ice” area and a 190,000-gallon saltwater pool, and rotate between areas. The facility encompasses more than 4 acres of outdoor and indoor habitats, and also includes an arctic fox habitat.

Carter said the plan was always to keep Suka and her cubs separated from Nuka until they are 2 years old, or close to full-grown.

Arbaugh said the plan is to let Jebbie and Laerke learn, grow and remain together, but “absolutely not” breed.

“As with all the animals here, we have to watch how they age and mature, but we have reasons to believe that they will be great companions,” she said. “We are just so happy. It’s a win-win for both of them. They are just endless bundles of energy.”

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.