Topsy

This feisty little sun bear stood up to bullies—and gave the Zoo some very important babies!
  • 1920s
  • 1940s

When sun bear cubs Topsy and Eva came to the Zoo in 1928, they were housed with a rowdy group of orangutans. Maggie, the orang ringleader, loved to tease the little bears. She would swing down, grab the bears by their back legs, and pull them away from their food dishes. One day, Topsy had finally had enough. She nipped that behavior in the bud by nipping Maggie on the head!

Topsy’s newfound courage then apparently went to her head, however, because she became so aggressive toward the orangutans that the sun bears were moved to other accommodations within the Zoo. In their new exhibit, the sun bears would romp and play. They also became such adept beggars that they earned themselves enough goodies to be referred to, in an early issue of ZOONOOZ, as “those fat little black bears from Malay.”

Topsy left another mark on Zoo history. In 1941, she gave birth to the Zoo’s first surviving cub of that species. The cub’s public debut was, of course, determined by Topsy. The first day the cub emerged from the den, visitors at the exhibit were thrilled—but apparently Topsy was not, and she promptly took her baby back inside. That’s where it stayed until she saw fit to bring it back out, on her schedule. She also gave birth to a second cub in 1942, bringing attention and accolades for the reproduction of a species rarely seen in US zoos.

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