Binky, the star polar bear at the Anchorage Zoo, was a pipeline orphan. Binky’s mother was getting a little too aggressive toward pipeline workers and had to be shot. Despite that unhappy beginning, Binky got a one-way ticket to the Anchorage Zoo, where he lived an uneventful life until the day an Australian tourist wanted to get an up-close-and-personal photo of Binky. At the point, I should note that the people who designed the zoo are not complete idiots. They built Binky an enclosure with *two* sets of steel bars; one to keep Binky in and the other to keep tourists out. They did not, however, manage to make Binky’s enclosure idiot-proof. The Australian shutterbug decided she just *had* to climb an eight-foot fence and stick her arms through the bars to get a better shot of Binky. She had not calculated that this gave a good shot at *her*. Binky’s predatory instincts took over. He thrust his snout through the bars and chomped down on one of her feet. At this point, some of her friends thought fast and grabbed ahold of her to pull her away. Another thought even faster, videotaping the whole thing. He sold the footage to a TV tabloid for a quarter of a million dollars. The woman managed to get free of Binky’s teeth, suffering only a broken leg. It strikes me as a small price to pay for acting like a complete idiot around a full-grown polar bear. Binky did manage to retain a souvenir; that Aussie woman had been wearing red running shoes, and Binky managed to keep one of them as a chewy toy. Indeed, the next morning, Binky was on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News, the red running shoe between his teeth. This led to a spate of T-shirts: Binky for Governor/Take a Bite Out Of Crime, Send Binky Another Tourist (The Last One Got Away), and Support Binky’s Catch and Release Program.
A few months later, a couple of apparently brain-dead Anchorage teenagers (is there any other kind?) decided that nothing could be jollier than to sneak into the Anchorage Zoo and take a dip in Binky’s swimming pool. Apparently, no one explained to them that polar bears are light sleepers and get territorial. One of those teenagers got seriously mauled. It amazes me that that young miscreant made it out alive. The next day, the zoo director was quoted as saying, “If someone wants to commit suicide, could they please leave the zoo out of it?”
Other local jokesters suggested that they equip Binky’s pool with a diving board; it would reduce the zoo’s food bills and help cull the species. I once spoke with another public defender who swore to me that he had defended another polar bear pool trespasser on other charges. When asked about the nature of the injuries the teenager had sustained, he would reply in a falsetto voice: “I don’t know, but I’ve heard rumors!”
Sadly, a few months later, Binky died at a ripe old age in polar bear years. The humorist Dave Barry once visited Binky, describing him as a Winnebago with claws and six-inch fangs. Some people speculated that, perhaps, he’d eaten some bad tourist. R.I.P. Binky, a true Alaska legend.