Betty and Veronica join a long line of bears living in Central Park

Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo

Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Bears have existed in Central Park since 1859 when a young park messenger named Phillip Holmes unwittingly became the caretaker of a young black bear cub. A wealthy New Yorker insisted that guards in the park take the trained cub as a symbolic gift. It was a way of saying, “thanks for bringing this wilderness to the city, here’s some wildness for you.”

Holmes job as messenger meant that he essentially carried out odd tasks for park employees. This was the first time he’d taken care of a wild animal but would not be the last. New Yorkers were so taken by the bear that more gifted animals began to arrive until the area where the zoo currently is situated became a “menagerie” for the animals to live. Holmes would eventually become the nation’s first zookeeper.

Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo

Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo

Much has changed since Victorian times and our city’s zoos are now home to many animals who might, under normal circumstances, not have survived in the wild. Betty and Veronica, who have moved into the habitat formerly belonging to Gus the polar bear, are two such animals.

The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo.

The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo. – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

These beautiful grizzle bears were rescued from Montana and Wyoming when officials deemed them a threat to humans in their respective areas. Bears such as these have typically shown repeated signs of violence and aggression and are often shot. Instead the Wildlife Conservation Society brought them to The Bronx Zoo where they’ve lived since 1995.

Veronica the Grizzly Bear - photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Veronica the Grizzly Bear – photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Zoo officials have reported that these seasoned grizzlies, who know prefer games to violence, will open the Grizzly Bear exhibit in Central Park but it will eventually become the home of three young cubs. The cubs recently lost their mother and the zoo officials need time to work with them before they introduce them to the public.

“It’s a new species and a new exhibit,” Jim Breheny, the society’s executive vice president for zoos and aquariums, told the New York Times. “That’s why we’re sending Betty and Veronica down there. They’re really solid, they’re responsive animals, they really like each other, have great relationships with their keepers. And they’re beautiful.”

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Newest Central Park Zoo addition born during storm

Central Park Zoo's Baby Lamb and Mother

Central Park Zoo's Baby Lamb and Mother, Photo: Julie Larsen Maher

While the rest of the New York braced itself for the coming hurricane, the Central Park Zoo’s curators and staff found themselves with some added responsibilities. Early Saturday morning they discovered a newborn lamb cuddled calmly next to its mother Truffle in the Tish Children’s Zoo.

“On a day of great uncertainty for New York City, the lamb brought smiles and hope to all of us at the zoo,” said Susan Cardillo, an assistant curator for Central Park Zoo. “We had to name her Irene Hope. She was a big surprise. It is rare to see a lamb born in late August.”

Wildlife Conservation Society officials checked to be sure that Irene Hope, a Southdown, one of the oldest breeds of sheep, was healthy and that she was secured with her mother in their stable as the initial first day of nursing is critical for a new lamb’s health. She will continue to nurse for three to four months and can be seen in the zoo starting today.

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