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Bethyl with her presents

Taronga’s giant Brown Bear, ‘Bethyl’, was 35 years old today, making her one of the oldest of her species in the world.

Bethyl has won the hearts of many keepers and visitors over the years and as a special birthday treat was given, a five kilo Atlantic Salmon to feast on.

Taronga Zoo’s Senior Carnivore keeper, Justine Powell, said: “Many of the keepers have a soft spot for this old bear and one of our keepers, Lisa, made a trip to the fish markets early yesterday to pick up her favourite delicacy.

Her Keepers also prepared a pink bear-sized ickle made from strawberry jam, a ‘fish cake’ and a birthday wrapped box concealing half a loaf of fresh bread filled with honey.

Bethyl's fish cake

As the Carnivore Keepers watched on, they were surprised to see that Bethyl went first for her fish cake, leaving the massive salmon until last.   

Bethyl is particularly special, being the only Brown Bear on display in Australasia. She was born in Colorado Springs, on 17 January 1977. Until early 2008 she lived alongside her sister Cynthia. Sadly the difficult decision was made to humanely put Cynthia to sleep as her quality of life had significantly deteriorated due to various age related illnesses, including arthritis.

“Bethyl has led a remarkably long life thanks to the abundance of fresh food and the expert care from keepers and veterinarian staff. In the wild they normally live to 25 years of age, so in bear terms she’s definitely defying the odds.”

Bethyl arrived with Cynthia at Taronga Zoo from Adelaide Zoo in 1985. Bethyl lives in Bear Canyon which was renovated in 2000 to accommodate the aging bears. The exhibit features graduated steps to aid movement, and heated mock rocks have been placed throughout the exhibit to help keep her warm and nimble during the winter months.

“We are delighted Bethyl has reached this grand old age and apart from some mild arthritis she is doing very well for an old bear,” said Justine.

Bethyl is fed several times throughout the day, ensuring that she keeps her joints moving and at the same time, providing exercise to strengthen her old muscles. For extra care in her twilight years she’s also been made more comfortable during the night with warm padded bedding made from sacks and straw to sleep on.

Kodiak Bears are the largest of the three sub-species of Grizzly or Brown Bear and the largest living land carnivore. This species of bear can stand up to three meters tall and weigh approximately 780kg. They are found only in three islands, Kodiak, Afognak and Shuyak off Alaska. 

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