Mike the Polar Bear

Mike the Polar Bear died in 1978, at the age of 25. That’s like 80 years old in polar bear years.

He was ‘donated’ to Lincoln Park Zoo, in Chicago Illinois as a cub, in 1956. Remembered as a ‘ham’ who would stand on his hind legs and beg for ice cream and marshmallows.

Mike spent his days sugar high and alone. He was ‘uninterested’ in lady polar bears, and never had cubs of his own.

People recall how he could devour a chocolate ice cream cone in one gulp, and deliberate over a tiny marshmallow, which the zoo sold in plastic packages.

My old boss told me about Mike. He said that “this polar bear would stand on his hind legs and catch marshmallows in his mouth all fuckin’ day, and the zoo was making a killing selling those marshmallows.”

His lifestyle caught up with him, and Mike got cavities. Zoo keepers tranquilized him, and he keeled over and almost drowned in a pool in his habitat. They used heavy ropes to pry his mouth open and extract the rotten teeth.Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 4.34.52 PM.png

Mike’s dental history was converted into a cartoon in 1981 after his death, for a public service announcement produced by the American Dental Association.Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 4.34.59 PM.png

Captivity, animal cruelty, and marshmallows. Mike the Polar Bear’s story is a strange one, and it belongs to Chicago.

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