Miss Houdini

As a youngster, this Andean bear earned her name by getting out of her exhibit—and it took keepers some time to figure out how she did it!
  • 1980s
  • 2010s

Once she earned the name Houdini, keepers, not surprisingly, kept a close eye on her. She became a sweet if bossy bear, particularly when weaning her youngsters. Her vocal repertoire was impressive, ranging from cooing at her keepers to an authoritative “yell” at Tommy, a grown male who shared her exhibit and was about two-thirds larger than she was.

Miss Houdini, as she was usually called, was a great mother, balancing nurturing with discipline and a bit of scolding. Keepers enjoyed observing the meticulous building of her nests—they had to provide extra bedding to make sure there was enough for Tommy after Miss Houdini took what she wanted. When she built her nest in the top of an exhibit log, she would jump up and down on the nesting material to get it just so, much to the amusement of onlookers.

There was a huge fig tree next to the Andean bear exhibit, and when it was in bloom, those delicious figs landed and she and Tommy had unscheduled feasts! It was like candy bars falling from the sky, making their weight control a challenge for keepers, but of course the bears were ecstatic. 

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