Looking back on the life of Little One

Mar 29th, 2021 | By | Category: Featured articles

29.3.2021 by Molly Merrow

We knew the day was coming. Little One had arthritis, and had lost weight. At 31, he was the oldest male polar bear in the U.S. He had lived a good long life.

He was born December 13, 1989, in the Cleveland Zoo to Snowball and Nauyat. In 2007 he came to the Cincinnati Zoo where he shared his home with the beautiful Rizzo and the fun loving Berit. No cubs resulted, and Rizzo went to Salt Lake City in 2012. Little One still had Berit as a companion.

little one rizzo berit in back

There was that crazy adventure too, one day in March of 2016 , when Berit found her way out into the keeper’s corridor due to a door malfunction, and Little One followed her of course. There was a lot of excitement as the zoo went into lock down. Little One was just innocently following Berit, and the two of them never got out of the interior of the polar bear habitat. Still, it was the big news story of the day on the local TV stations.

little one berit ice

Berit went to Madison Wisconsin in the fall of 2016. On that same day Anana arrived, and at first, everything seemed promising. But Anana was slow to warm up to Little One.

Little One watching Anana

Little One watching Anana

At first she wanted nothing to do with him. This distancing went on for almost a year. Little One avoided Anana, was sleeping more, swimming seldom. He took his naps inside or behind the big rock, out of sight. Anana decided, all of a sudden, that she liked him after all. He became young again, swimming and splashing with his new girlfriend. Visitors could almost always count on seeing the two of them together, sometimes having fun and playing, and sometimes sleeping. But together.

anana little One

Anana meat

A special birthday party with a fancy cake was held to celebrate Little One’s 30th birthday on December 13, 2019.

Little One and Anana had two good years together, but no pregnancy resulted. In the early winter of 2020, it was decided to send Anana north to Detroit where there was a male bear known to be fertile. Little One was getting to be just too old, and mating season took its toll, as much as he enjoyed himself.

Mr and Mrs. Anana

After Anana left, Little One moped around, and went back to his old habits of being mostly out of sight, swimming very little. He did enjoy his food, especially his favorite snack of peanuts. Of course the zoo was closed for months in 2020, due to the pandemic, and Little One probably got used to not having any visitors, just his keepers. After the zoo reopened in the Summer, with limited occupancy, visitors were lucky if they saw him at all.

I made a special visit to the zoo on Little One’s 31st birthday on December 13. He came out to see me, and even posed a bit. Then he was back inside, probably for the rest of the day. He seemed tired.

little one ignore

As this past winter eased up, and the days became warmer, visitors noticed a change in Little One. He was often out swimming, strolling around, or just laying around enjoying the warm spring sunshine. He enjoyed being in the public eye, and seemed very happy and healthy, although much thinner than he had been. Bear Hill was a happy place again, at least for a few months.

little one carry pumpkin-1

Of course there was the terrible news in February about the tragic death of Anana in Detroit. Little One wouldn’t have known anything about it, and carried on with his springtime fun.

Just this week, his keepers noticed that he wasn’t eating, even his favorite foods. He was barely active at all. They discovered that he was in renal failure, and had to euthanize him on Saturday morning, March 27.

It is always sad when a bear dies, even a very old bear. Many visitors have been posting photos of Little One, photos taken in the last month or two, showing all his fun activities and his joy during the final weeks of his life.

Then there are the happy photos of Little One and Anana, in those joyful days when they were together.

Anana Little One tongue

I last saw him February 23, about a month before he died, and he was strolling about, looking content on that warm sunny day. I thought how well he appeared. His fur was smooth and clean, and he had a calm look about him. There was a crowd at the window, oohing and ah-hing over him.

little one pumpkin up

Little One’s keepers say he was the sweetest most cooperative bear they had ever worked with. Now there are no more polar bears at the Cincinnati Zoo. There are plans to eventually construct an improved polar habitat using all of Bear Hill, but that will have to wait, for Chester the elderly Spectacled Bear, is still next door.


Little One had a brother, Blizzard, who died in 2006, and his sister Satuki, 29, still lives in Japan. She is the last of the family.

Little One spent his last few months by going back to his favorite activities, enjoying his life in its waning days. It’s not a bad way to go. He will be missed, for he was greatly loved by the people of Cincinnati and beyond.

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  1. Dear Molly,

    It wasn’t such a long time ago we heard the sad news of Anana’s passing – and now even Little One has left us. I want to think they’re having a good time together in their polar bear heaven.

    You wrote a very nice memory article of your beloved white friend. The photos are wonderful, too.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and memories with the readers of this magazine!

    Hugs from Mervi

  2. Dear Mervi and Molly
    This is such a beautiful tribute to Little One. He had a good life and was well loved. Saying goodbye to a bear after 31 years is not easy, but at least Little One was able to live a peaceful old age with first class medical care.

  3. Liebe Molly,

    vielen Dank für die Hommage über Little One und deine liebevollen Worte.
    Er hatte ein gutes Leben in eurem Zoo und die Geschichte mit der offenen Türe zum Pfleger
    ist gottob gut ausgegangen.

    Interessant ist sein wechselvolles Verhalten mit und ohne Anana, die leider auf so tragische Weise
    gestorben ist. Die liebevolle Pflege der Pfleger hat ihm bis zum Ende sein Leben
    mit gutem Essen versüßt. Auch sie werden werden diesen Gentlemenbär sehr vermissen.

    Rest in Peace Little One!

  4. Dear Molly,
    you wrote a wonderful tribute to Little One. He had a good and long life and he was loved.

  5. Dear Molly!
    Thank you for the touching and affectionate obituary of this very lovable polar bear.
    It is always very sad, almost heartbreaking, to have to say goodbye to a long trusted and loved animal, even if it has reached a respectable age.
    Like Mervi, I imagine Little One and Anana are now reunited and doing well.


  6. Dear Molly and Mervi

    I thank you for the nice look back at the life of Littel One.

    He had a long and beautiful life. It is always difficult to let go of a beloved animal, even a zoo animal.


  7. Liebe Molly,
    Vielen Dank, ein würdiger Nachruf!
    Traurige Grüße Moni K

  8. Thank you very much dear Molly.
    I am so sorry for the loss of Little One. May he rest in peace. We will never forget him. We will always love him. We love you Little One.

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