Beer Kegs and Bowling Balls Help Amuse Zoos’ Big Lions and Tigers and Bears

United Press International

If you think your kids are real animals when it comes to breaking toys, consider the problems facing the nation’s zookeepers trying to entertain lions and tigers and bears.

Consider Gordon Noyes, whose job is to find playthings that will stand up to the antics of Conrad and Yugyan--two 1,200-pound polar bears at the Washington Park Zoo.

“They like to try to sink their teeth into toys,” said Noyes, a zookeeper for nearly 25 years who has spent the last 15 taking care of the bears.


Noyes’ must find toys that are hard enough to withstand the bears’ bites, yet soft enough to bounce off the glass windows surrounding their enclosure.

Watch the Windows

“We used to buy chipped bowling balls for the bears, which they really liked. But with the glass windows in the new exhibit area, we can’t do that anymore,” Noyes said.

The bears like toys that are movable and that they can control, he said.

He has been experimenting with different types of balls and floats to see which the bears prefer. Although he’s learned plenty about the punishment his charges can hand out, he hasn’t yet determined whether the bears have a favorite toy.

“The males like large floats they can jump on,” he said. “But the females can get intimidated by the big ones, so we’ll put in some smaller floats. Our youngest female was very timid at first, but has come to enjoy playing with things.”

Noyes said several toys are given to the bears at the same time to avoid fights. For Yugyan and Conrad, fewer than four toys can lead to an argument. He also withholds a toy for a day or two so it will seem new and interesting.


Bruce Brewer, assistant curator of mammals at the Brookfield, Ill., zoo said he also tried, and rejected, used bowling balls.

Plugged the Drains

“We got some bowling balls made without holes so the animals wouldn’t break their teeth on them. The polar bears thought they were terrific, but we had to take them away when we discovered the balls were the perfect size for plugging the drains in their moat,” Brewer said.

The balls proved just as problematic for the lions. One male liked a ball so well he adopted it and refused to let the females near it for two days. The big cats also took to batting the balls back and forth and bouncing them off the walls of the cage, which left holes, Brewer said.