Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bear days at Auckland Zoo

Darian from the Long White Kid mentioned a cool item of Trade Me the other day, so I tried my hand at online auctions for the first time. I lost out on what Darian gave me the head's up on -- but I found this, and succeeded. Meet "The Cadger", an animal at Auckland Zoo c.1939 (date of message on the back of the card) which seems to be a black bear from America.

Closest article in Papers Past which may relate, at least in part, to the Cadger is this:

(By Telegraph—Press Association.) 
AUCKLAND, February 2. 

Attacked by a ten-year-old black bear at the Auckland Zoo this morning, a keeper, Mr W Hawke, suffered severe lacerations to the left leg. He was carrying out the usual daily cleaning of the pit when the animal attacked him without warning, gripping him behind the knee with its teeth. 

The bear is a member of a species common in America. It was born at the zoo ten years ago and at no time showed signs of viciousness. It was held in such trust, in fact, that it was allowed to roam loose, in the pit while cleaning was carried out. Another occupant of the pit, a bear newly arrived from California, was not sufficiently well known to the keepers to be trusted in such a way, and it was locked up, each time they entered. 

Mr Hawke entered the pit this morning in company with his brother, Mr Alan Hawke, who is also a keeper. Apparently the animal had the traditional bear's "sore head" and was "out of sorts" for the time being, for turned suddenly on the keeper and its sharp fangs tore into the flesh of his leg. His brother came quickly to his assistance and drove the bear away. He then helped his brother to climb out of the pit. Medical attention was given while the arrival of an ambulance was awaited. Mr. Hawke was taken to the Auckland Hospital, where his condition this afternoon was satisfactory.

Accidents of this kind in zoological gardens are extremely rare. It is believed, indeed, that never before has a keeper at the Auckland Zoo been attacked in such a way by any animal. In Yellowstone Park, United States, the black bear roams wild in forest preservations and is a constant attraction to tourists.
Evening Post 3.4.1938 

Ten years before, when the bear who attacked the keeper had been born, two bear pits were constructed at the zoo, one for polar bears, the other for the black bears. With today's eyes, the one holding the Cadger looks especially bleak.

Adjoining the pit for the Polar bear, is the pit for the black bears, not quite so big and differently built, to allow of more scrambling up and down. There are laddery walks in concrete, and at the top will be a pile of logs for claw sharpening. In both pits the bears will be in sight except when they are in the dens. A walk is being built right round both these concrete bear palaces, and when the levels have been reached the walls fronting tho walks will be about three feet high, crowned with strong curved iron spikes, though the bears will not be able to reach them. Netting will prevent eager youngsters from toppling into the bears' baths. These pits are worthy of any zoo in the world.
Evening Post 3.10.1928 

The bear born at Auckland Zoo appears to have been female, according to a report in the Hobart Mercury, 29 April 1936, when the Council bought a black bear from America as a companion.

The Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Library have some images of bears in the zoo's black bear pit (these were found by Liz -- cheers, my friend):

Ref. 35-R183

Ref. 35-R171

The polar bears and their pit -- is a whole 'nother story in itself. A very sad one, too.


  1. One thing about the history of the design of enclosures for the early zoos. The pit concept seemed to be a popular one for bears, lions and other carnivores. The problem was very little thought at the time was put into addressing the animal's wellbeing. Concrete and rock aren't exactly the kind of habitat American Black Bear inhabit. Great photo though! The idea behind the pits was to get rid of the jail cell concept so visitors could see animals in a so called 'more natural setting' not in this case. As for the Polar Bears....yes well a concrete enclosure with mock icicles...? Problems with skin conditions and the list goes on. I've almost completed my research on the polar bears at Auckland Zoo. Sad story indeed!

  2. The bear pit is sad enough. I remember seeing a bear bit here in Melbourne at the zoo. Horrible. Who thought putting bears or any animal in a concrete pit was a good idea?

  3. I'm not a fan of zoos anyway, and the fascination with "bear pits" by zoos up to recently reinforced that opinion. As Liz said, it was meant to get them out of the "jail cell concept" ... but a pit is also where one fights and dies. Not pleasant.

  4. I remember the poor old polar bear that would walk endlessly backwards and forwards along a concrete iceberg in Auckland Zoo. Six paces to the left... six paces to the right... swing head side to side four times... then repeat the routine all over again. All day long. Poor old sod had literally gone insane!
    Did we really understand enough about proper care of animals then (1980s)? I think so! A sad indictment...

  5. I recall reading somewhere in the 1930s articles where someone from the Zoo at that point said that the head-swaying meant the polar bear was content!! Egad!! Okay, I realise that few at that time had seen polar bears, sane ones, in their natural environment, so I shouldn't put too much of a 21st century spin on it, but -- heck!

    Hang on, here it is: "If the Polar bear, when he is put in the new pit, continues to hang his head and do the pendulum swing he keeps up all day, where he is, it will be because he likes it." (Evening Post 3 October 1928)

    Heck, again.

  6. An update for you Lisa on the Brown Bear. The bear's name was "Teddy" he was a Syrian Bear aka the "large male Russian bear" (Boyd's letter) that Auckland Zoo took as part of the deal with John J. Boyd. Teddy over his 20 years at Auckland Zoo managed to kill two mates. He died at Auckland Zoo in 1944 aged well over 20 years. He was described as the Zoo's "Oldest living resident" That may well be him the brown bear in the photo.