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Jebbie and Laerke, cubs who captured the heart of the community, to live separately

By The Detroit Zoo

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

Over the last several months, Jebbie, an Alaskan grizzly bear, and Laerke, a polar bear born at the Detroit Zoo, have captured the hearts of guests and Zoo staff alike. Their companionship has been a highlight for guests to view as they walk through the Arctic Ring of Life, watching the two swim and play together.

The cubs share a unique story and have thrived together, but the time has come for them to live separately.

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Jebbie, a grizzly bear from Tok, Alaska, was rescued in June 2021 after area residents noticed a cub wandering alone. Grizzly cubs normally spend up to three years with their mothers, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG), the agency responsible for native wildlife in Alaska, knew he would not survive on his own. As often happens in cases like Jebbie’s, he was captured by ADFG and taken to the Alaska Zoo.

Jebbie was eventually brought to the Detroit Zoo to receive care and sanctuary.  After being examined by Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) veterinarians, Jebbie was moved to the Arctic Ring of Life, where he was gradually introduced to polar bear cub, Laerke.

Two days after birth, Laerke had a medical emergency and had to be removed from the den she shared with her mother, Suka, and sister, Astra. After months of round-the-clock care by DZS staff, she was moved to the Arctic Ring of Life where she could see the other polar bears and begin the process of being weaned from human care. It was clear from the reactions of Suka and Astra that returning Laerke to her family was not an option. After Jebbie’s rescue, Laerke had an opportunity for companionship and socialization with another bear.

Though the bears lived together successfully for the past seven months, animal care staff has known since the cubs were introduced that they would eventually need to be separated. It was never the DZS’s intent for Jebbie and Laerke to live the rest of their lives together. Throughout the time they have lived, played and learned together, Jebbie has grown much larger than Laerke, and now sometimes plays more roughly than Laerke would like.  As a result, the pair will be separated.

While they will not be sharing the same space, the bears will still be able to see one another and interact when they are indoors.  Eventually, each of them will likely move to new homes but at this time, staff does not know where those will be.

Jebbie will most likely go to live at a wildlife sanctuary. It is not possible for him to live with the Detroit Zoo’s three resident grizzly bears, brothers Mike, Thor and Boo. Adult male grizzly bears spend little time together in the wild, and Mike, Thor and Boo are exceptions because they grew up together

“Jebbie’s long-term well-being has been a priority since his rescue by the DZS, and we will ensure that he is provided with a permanent home in which he will continue to thrive,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the DZS.

Where the future will take Laerke will be determined by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Polar Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP), which will likely recommend she move to another zoo to take part in the SSP’s breeding program and hopefully have cubs of her own one day.

“Her time with Jebbie gave Laerke the socialization she needed at a critical point in her development,” Carter said. “It is now much more likely that Laerke will be able to socialize and live with other polar bears.”

The DZS believes the pair benefitted greatly from their time together. By bringing the two bears together at such a crucial point in their lives, both were provided much-needed socialization, and Jebbie was given a home, which gave him a second chance at life.

“Though we know our guests will miss seeing the pair play together in the Arctic Ring of Life, this change is in the best interest of both bears,” Carter said. “The welfare of Jebbie and Laerke has been our top priority throughout this process — and their welfare will continue to be our top priority as we see where the future will take these two extraordinary animals.”

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