Snow Lilly Story

May 3rd, 2020 | By | Category: Lead articles

3.5.2020 – by Molly Merrow, Photos by Michelle Rippey

She’s the grand dame of American polar bears. Snow Lilly of the Milwaukee County Zoo turned 35 years old in December and is the oldest polar bear in the Western Hemisphere. Snow Lilly is only three weeks younger than Katjuscha of the Berlin Zoo, who is the oldest polar bear in Europe.


We are lucky to have some photos shared by Michelle Rippey, who has visited Snow Lilly very often over the years, up until March 14, the day the Milwaukee County Zoo was closed due to the pandemic.



Michelle visited her two days before the zoo closed. She says, “I finally got lucky and caught a quick swim Lilly took on March 12th. At first she was in her favorite napping spot (the photo with her leg up which was her response when I said hello). I came back a few minutes later and she was up. She likes to test the water and dip her paw in, then walks another lap to think about it (I usually stick around since she’s most likely going in). That day she took a few slow laps, so she could clean herself. On warm days, she often can be seen relaxing on the steps of the pool blowing bubbles while drinking.”


Snow Lilly was born in Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, to Penny and Nicklee. The cub moved to the Bronx Zoo in New York City when she was about 9 months old, where she lived for ten years, and had a son, Tundra in 1991 with Blizzard as the father. Blizzard died in 2006. Tundra stayed in the Bronx Zoo all his life, and died in 2017.




Snow Lilly moved to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2005, where there was a male named Zero, who had been born at that zoo in 1989.

Snow Lilly didn’t really care much for Zero, or maybe she just wanted to be left alone. Zero was famous for going down into the moat and just staying there for weeks. He moved to Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester NY in 2010. A year later, a German circus bear, who had been rescued from a Mexican circus, arrived. Wilhelm was something of a celebrity bear and won many fans. Snow Lilly was not a fan, however. The keepers rotated them, so if one was outside, the other was in. Willie passed away in 2013, and Snow Lilly has been happily alone ever since.

Snow Lilly really enjoys her enrichment. For her 35th birthday, she had quite the party, with many presents and cards and decorations. She loved the crab legs, her favorite, and the ice treats.

snow lily streamers

snow lily birthday card-1

snow lily box face

snow lily box

snow lily box 2

snow lily hydrant

snow lily tongue

snow lily ice treat

A local company had donated a pallet of new cardboard boxes to the Milwaukee County Zoo, and some of these were used for Snow Lilly’s enrichment. She had fun with boxes filled with treats on January 21, and Michelle was there to take photos.






On Valentine’s Day, Snow Lilly had to hunt to find a bunny and other snacks hidden inside the box, and Michelle was there with her camera.





“Lilly has spunk! She loves boxes and finding tasty snacks inside. The first box she carried & smacked across the entire exhibit while getting the snacks hidden inside. I believe she also had peanut butter spread in there, which she loves.” The old lady polar bear carried the bunny around, and kept dipping it in the pool then continue to walk with it, and finally ate it. “She loves her bunnies,” observed Michelle, “and usually eats them in back, so it was a thrill to see.”


While Michelle can still watch Snow Lilly on one of the webcams offered by the zoo on their website, she misses seeing her and photographing her . “I love how her personality shines through in photos. Such a dramatic old gal she is. She was doing great last I saw her,” which was on March 14th.

Michelle says that Snow Lilly is fun to watch when the keepers are feeding the harbor seals. (Photos by Molly Merrow)

Snowlily fish


“She waits so patiently hoping a fish or two will come her way. Zoo visitors really enjoy watching her.”

The keepers told Michelle that our old bear’s favorite foods are grapes, peanut butter mixed with honey, tiny frozen smelt (fish fries), pig’s ears from Bunzels, crab legs, scallops, squid and pears.

The keepers also said that “Lilly is doing great.. She’s active and still playing, swimming and stalking us when the mood strikes her.”


Snow Lilly has long life genes. Her father lived to be 33, and her older sister Coldilocks lived to the ripe old age of 37, so Snow Lilly may be around for some time yet.

Thanks so much to Michelle for sharing these wonderful photos of beautiful Snow Lilly with us.

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  1. Dear Molly, Michele and Mervi
    What a lovely surprise for a Sunday morning. Snow Lily is a beautiful lady Polar Bear.
    Lik Kati she is happiest on her own but likes enrichment and her visitors.
    Long life to her

  2. Thank you very much dear Molly, Michelle and Mervi.
    Dear Snow Lilly, I hope you had a wonderful birthday. We love you very much and we wish you all the best.

  3. Dear Mervi, Molly and Michele!
    Thank you for the touching report about this elderly polar bear lady!
    Snow Lily is for sure an icon like our Katjuscha.
    The photographs are marvellous. She is a very good looking bear lady and I wish her some more happy and healthy years!

    Cubs and young bears are cute, charming and loveable but old bears are real personalities with dignity and a strong character.
    Thomas Dörflein once said that he loves them most and I found it quite understandable.
    I´m charmed by sweet little cubs but I love the old bears!


  4. Dear 3M (Mervi, Michelle and Molly), what a great report and wonderful pics of this lady. She is quite a personality, isn’t she. And I love it to read that even at her age, she is still playing “games” with her keepers. Actually, she doesn’t look her age (frankly said, she looks much younger than Kati).
    I hope that Milwaukee Zoo also soon will be able to re-open for the visitors and that we then will have the chance to enjoy an update about Snow Lily.

  5. Dear Mervi, Molly and Michele!
    Thank you for this interesting story. It is great to know that Lily in her age is happy about the rabbit hidden in the box. I wish Lily more years with the good health.

  6. What a charming and interesting story. All the best wishes for Lily!
    Thanks dear Mervi, Molly and Michele for the interesting report and the wonderful pictures.
    Hugs Inge

  7. Thanks to SNOW LILLY for ‘posing’ so nicely, to Michelle Rieppey and Molly Merrow for having made these wonderful shots and for shaaring them with other polar bear friends so generously, and – last not least, to MERVI who makes the publication for uspossible by her in the meantime worldwide contacts and all her editorial efforts.

    It was a pleasure to watch and read the informative text.

    Further good luck and health and lots of yummy treats to SNOW LILLY!

  8. Dear Molly and Michelle,

    It was such a great pleasure for me to publish your wonderful article of Snow Lilly. I’m sure the readers of this magazine have fallen in love with her, too!

    We animal friends love our white fluffy friends no matter how old they are – and, frankly, the adults with their special characteristics are more interesting than small babies. Besides – they are as cute as adults as they were as cubbies.

    It’s touching to see how beloved Snow Lilly is. She certainly deserves all the love.

    Despite the respectable age Snow LIlly is a playful polar bear lady and there’s no doubt she loves all the gifts on her birthday, on the Valentines day and I’m sure the Santa didn’t forget her either during the Christmas time. 🙂

    Thank you so much for this charming article of the adorable Snow LIlly! I wish her lots of health and happiness!

    Hugs from Mervi

  9. Snow Lilly sieht sehr gut aus
    für ihr Alter – wünschen wir ihr
    noch viele gute Jahre ! 🙂

  10. Liebe Mervi,

    Lilly ist fast so alt wie Katjuscha, und sieht auch noch fantastisch aus.
    Das sind sehr schöne Fotos von der Snow-Lady.

    Der Geburtstag ist zwar schon einige Zeit her, aber mit den Geschenken hat man sich sehr viel Mühe gegeben.

    Danke fürs Zeigen.

    Liebe Grüße

  11. Liebe Molly und liebe Michelle,
    Snow Lilly sieht noch sehr gut aus für ihr hohes Eisbärenalter!
    Schön zu sehen, dass sie so geliebt und umsorgt wird und ich wünsche der Bärin noch viele gute Jahre!
    Herzlichen Dank für den interessanten Bericht, die schönen Bilder und Mervi dass sie diesen Bericht eingestellt hat.
    Liebe Grüße Moni K