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Keema, we love you big bear!

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, Communications
with Animal Keeper Allison Barr
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Keema! The big grizzly puts on quite a show while splashing in the bear pool, 2022.

Since Juniper the brown bear cub joined the Living Northwest Trail in July, the little floof has been grabbing the attention of visitors and has amassed quite a following on certain social platforms, ahem #cutestbearcubinthewholeworld, but all along folks have been asking after Keema, our older grizzly bear too. Keema is still our favorite (we can have more than one), and we're so happy to see his fan club is still going strong. There were lots of questions about how Keema was doing after losing Denali (his brother who passed away in 2020), what he would think of Juniper and the new cub, and how the older bear is doing in his golden years. We asked dedicated animal keeper Allison Barr a few questions about the big guy and her answers will make you fall even more in love with Keema than you already were.

In human care, the median life expectancy for brown bears is just under 22 years for males and 26 years for females. Keema will celebrate 29 years this January! What is the secret to Keema's golden years? 

We keep a close eye on his appetite and activity level, as well as his normal behaviors. Any changes are communicated to our Animal Health team and the Animal Keeper managers. Keema does not have a special diet, but he does receive cosequin for joint health and he is trained for voluntary blood draws so our veterinary staff can keep an eye on his health.

We love Keema so much. We know his keepers are spoiling him. What is your advice for keeping an older bear curious and young at heart? 

We love him too. He is a special bear. The advice for keeping him young at heart is to keep him active, engaged and curious by offering different enrichment items and spending time with him and yes….spoiling him!

Keema sniffing the bear yard for enrichment in 2022.

How did Keema react to sharing the sniff zone with Juniper? (Please note, sniff zone is not a scientific area, but a nickname used by the communications team to describe the shared indoor space in the bear unit. Keema doesn't physically occupy the same space as Juniper or the new cub, but they can see, hear and smell each other.)

Keema was curious as to who this new little cub was. Initially, Juniper was kept inside during quarantine and Keema would spend time at her door and sniff it. All three bears will probably do much the same when the new cub is introduced.

Do Keema and Juniper "talk" to each other behind the scenes? 

Initially they did “huff” at each other across the holding room, but after they got used to seeing each other they don’t vocalize at each other anymore. There isn’t much interacting between them.

Keema greeting visitors via his pool view in 2022.

Has Keema's behavior changed at all with Juniper around? Likewise, what routines will change when the other cub is introduced to the space? 

Other than the initial getting to know each other, Keema’s behavior has not changed much. We rotate the bears up to five times a day (one in the public outdoor space, one behind the scenes in private yard or indoors), but they are not on a fixed schedule to make things more interesting for them. Their food is hidden or scattered either on exhibit, behind the scenes, or put in toys at these times. We are lucky to have a private exterior yard to do enrichment for whichever bear is off exhibit. At first having three bears will be a little challenging, but we hope to get the new cub and Juniper together as soon as they are ready (which hopefully won't take too long). Juniper and the new cub will be together except when we feed them the bulk of their diet. We will still hide and scatter some of their diet and treats for them to find on exhibit. We will continue to switch the two groups (Keema and the cubs) on exhibit throughout the day.

Keema and Denali playing in the stream way back in 1994! From Woodland Park Zoo archives.

Does Keema still prefer to shell his peanuts? 

Yes, he does, and Juniper does too.

Keema gives a sideways look when he’s about to be naughty! Is he teaching Juniper any moves? 

Keema’s side-eye look is his way of scolding us for doing something he doesn’t like. Juniper has also started giving the side-eye look for the same reason.

Keema exploring the Living Northwest Trail in 2022.

What is Keema's ultimate favorite treat? 

He loves grapes and honey. He also loves coconuts, rolling in coffee, and enjoying watermelon in his pool.

Does Keema still fish for trout now that Denali (his brother who passed away in 2020) is gone or was that a two-bear operation? 

Yes, he tries but it is more difficult without Denali’s help. We sometimes give him a hand by lowering the pool to make it a little easier.

Does Keema sleep more than he used to? 

Since we are rotating the bears throughout the day, Keema seems to be sleeping less. Though he does still get sleepier in the winter months!

A cozy Keema sleeping in his "nest", 2022.

When does Keema seem the most content? 

I think he gives the appearance of being most content when he is eating or snuggling into his bed of hay in the winter months.

Who is a brown bear and who is a grizzly and how can we tell the difference? 

When our guests see the two young bears, they will notice quite a size different even though they are approximately the same age. That is because Juniper is a coastal brown bear, and the new cub is an inland grizzly bear (like Keema). We like to tell people that all grizzlies are brown bears but not all brown bears are grizzlies. Coastal brown bears tend to be a little bigger than their inland grizzly relatives. This is mostly due to the higher protein in their diet. Though both bears are omnivores (eat a variety of food such as meat, fruit, vegetables, grasses) the coastal brown bears eat a lot more fish due to its availability.

The three bears! Clockwise from top: Grizzly bear Keema, brown bear cub Juniper and grizzly bear rescue cub (soon to be named!).

Thank you Allison for the scoop on Keema and for all the ways you and your team are making sure he is living his best older bear life with all the bear cub shenanigans around him! We can't wait to see Juniper and the incoming cub introduced and we know all three bears will be keeping the Living Northwest Trail team busy this winter!

To learn more about how you can help bears in the Northwest and to do your part in bear conservation, check out and our carnivore conservation work at

Keema is still King of Living Northwest Trail!