Remembering Binky, the Anchorage zoo's beloved 'killer bear'

Binky, Alaska Zoo's male polar bear, chews on a tennis shoe belonging a Australian woman who was grabbed by the bear when she got too close to his cage Friday July 29, 1994, in Anchorage, Alaska.
Binky, the Alaska Zoo's polar bear, in December 1994. 12/29/1994
Erik Hill

Hard to believe it's been almost a generation since Binky, the Alaska Zoo's foul-tempered male polar bear, attacked two zoo-goers in separate incidents and became world-famous for a photo showing him holding one of his victims' tennis shoes in his mouth. The Canadian magazine UpHere, based in the Northwest Territories, includes a celebration of Binky -- and of Alaskans' sympathy for an animal they believed was simply harassed by a couple of idiots -- in its special edition devoted to polar bears. 

Growing up under the gaze of tourists did nothing to dispel Binky’s instinctive appetite for human flesh. He was merely a wild animal with a landscaped den – and it showed. In a 1984 letter to the editor, 9-year-old Della May Higgs told the Anchorage Daily News that Binky had tried to “tear me, my mom and my sister to pieces.” As they ogled the brown bears in the neighboring enclosure, Binky thrashed at the bars of his cage. “Binky was turning the bar from side to side, we were terrified,” she wrote. A quick-thinking zookeeper tossed Binky some meat to quell his anger. Meanwhile, the terrified tourists backed away, keeping their gaze on his cage.

Higgs and her family weren’t the only ones to catch a glimpse of Binky’s mean streak. Patrick Lampi, who was a zookeeper at the time, says the bear behaved unusually violently toward zoo staff and visitors alike“I do not see that same aggression in the bears we have today,” he says. 

Read more in UpHere.