Illinois Zoo Mourns Passing of Beloved 27-Year-Old Brown Bear

by Emily Morgan

The Brookfield Zoo community is mourning the passing of a 27-year-old brown bear named Jim, who greeted millions of visitors during his time at the Illinois zoo.

Before he passed away, the zoo’s animal care and veterinary staff decided to euthanize the bear on Tuesday due to his declining health. According to the zoo staff, the bear’s mobility had significantly declined due to his severe arthritis.

In addition, the bear was approaching his 28th birthday. Before he arrived at the zoo in 1995, Jim’s mother had been killed by a hunter and was orphaned. As a result, he and his brother, Axhi, arrived at the zoo when the bear cubs were just six months old.

“As an easygoing gentle giant, Jim was definitely was one of the staff’s favorites,” said Mark Wanner, curator of mammals for CZS, in an official statement. “Jim was very eager to try new food items and seemed to thoroughly enjoy his enrichment. Additionally, he voluntarily participated in his own health care during husbandry training sessions with animal care staff. This has been an incredibly difficult time for those who cared for him and he will be greatly missed.”

Some of the people who helped rescue the two cubs named him Kootznoowoo-Jim. According to CZS, Kootznoowoo is a word from the Tlingit people of Admiralty Island which means “fortress of the bear,” and Jim was an animal care staff member who took care of the cubs when he worked at the Zoo’s mammal department.

‘Parent’ of brown bear fondly recalls her last visit with Jim

In addition, Jim made learning about conservation efforts for brown bears fun for visitors. In addition, he was often photographed in the Chicago Bears’ blue and orange to mark the start of the annual football season. After the news broke, comments poured in with memories and photos of Jim from his fans.

“I loved essentially growing up with you two and seeing you become not only fan favorites, but an amazing example of how truly majestic bears can be,” one commenter said.

For Brittany Fitzsimmons, Jim’s passing was significant. When she was six, her great-uncle “gifted” her a brown bear for Christmas in 1995. As it turned out, via the Chicago Zoological Society’s Animal Adoption donation program, Fitzsimmons became Jim’s “parent.”

Every year, her great-uncle renewed that donation for the bear’s care in her name. As a result, Fitzsimmons looked forward to seeing new pictures of Jim and letters about Jim’s progression each Christmas. Then, in the summer, she’d visit the zoo to check in on Jim and try to tell him apart from his brother.

Now 33, her most recent visit with Jim was this month. However, she didn’t realize it would be her last. During her first, Fitzsimmons and her boyfriend watched Jim and his brother as they chewed on cabbage and meat.

“It was just really neat to know that he was kind of, sort of mine,” she said. “You know, not really mine, but still an exciting reason to go to the zoo.”