Meet Laerke and Jebbie, the polar and grizzly cubs who are forming an unlikely friendship in Michigan.
ROYAL OAK, Mich.—The Detroit Zoo has the most heartwarming, eye-catching pair of siblings you’ll ever meet. Laerke, a more than 120-pound polar bear cub, and Jebbie, an adopted 180-pound grizzly bear cub from Alaska, might have different color fur (and be different species altogether), but to them, they’re brother and sister.
Their bond is a unique one, and even zoo caretakers who have seen so much animal kinship say they’re in awe of the two creatures’ connection. To date, they’ve been getting acquainted and playing together behind closed doors but starting today, the bears will be in open air during the day—in view of the public.
“There are no other polar bear cubs who we can bring here to live with her, so we reached out to state agencies that frequently must find homes for orphaned grizzly bear cubs,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society. “We’re thrilled that we are able to give Jebbie sanctuary and provide a much-needed companion for Laerke. This social development is critically important for both Laerke and Jebbie.”
Though polar bears and grizzly bears are the same genus, they have important differentiating qualities. Grizzly bears are a grassland species and omnivores. Polar bears primarily live in the Arctic Circle and are the largest living mammal to eat meat regularly. Both species are considered threatened.
How Laerke and Jebbie came to meet each other is a fairytale in every way, from the tear-jerking tragedy to the sweet resolution.
At the Detroit Zoo, Laerke was born a twin just a couple of years ago, to mother Suka and father Nuka. While her sister quickly showed signs of good health, Laerke struggled. Worried for her life, zookeepers intervened.
Laerke underwent surgeries and emergency operations. She fought for her life. Then, each day, she started to gain a little strength.
Caretakers hand-raised her back to health. And when the time came, they reintroduced her to mom and sister.
Sadly, enough time had passed so that Suka, her mom, couldn’t recognize her. Protective of the cub she raised, Suka had no room in her den, and Laerke was left to find another home.
“Suka is a great mother and very protective of Laerke’s sister, Astra, but it’s clear that she no longer recognizes Laerke as her cub,” Carter said. “Returning Laerke to her mother and sister is not an option for us.”
All by herself, Laerke played in her exhibit. Though she was still a spirited, youthful cub, caretakers could tell she was lonely. They desperately searched for other cubs she could befriend.
Lo and behold, Jebbie faced his own isolation and struggle, all the way in Alaska. Rescued when he was found wandering near a neighborhood, far too young to be without his mother, Jebbie came to the Detroit Zoo for an unlikely match.
Ordinarily, Detroit Zoo visitors would find Jebbie in the American grasslands habitat—where the three other grizzlies live, all who are also orphans from Alaska because their mother was shot and killed illegally.
But since they hit it off, Laerke and Jebbie will live together, polar and grizzly, in the “Arctic Ring of Life,” ranked the second-best zoo exhibit in the country by the “Intrepid Traveler.” It’s one of the largest zoo polar bear habitats in the world.
Quickly, the two have become playmates, tussling and chasing after one another, while sharing the same habitat. They even share a set of toys. Whether some unspoken understanding of their life experiences or both in search of someone to connect with, the bears have become close friends.
Zookeepers only expect their connection to develop in the months ahead as they grow up together.
Visitors can see the two by visiting the Detroit Zoo. Ticketing information can be found here.