The oldest grizzly vs. the oldest polar bear: which of these two titans of the Northern Hemisphere has the longer life span?

Massive, solitary, and clever, these bears roam their territories without a worry regarding competition for resources or predators. The only obstacles to grizzlies’ and polar bears’ carefree existence are other grizzlies and polar bears!

Bears have few predators, living at the top of the food chain, as they do. In fact, bears are more likely to be predators, than to be attacked by a predator.

Having few predators means that they can live to be quite old.

Read on to discover whether the grizzly or the polar bear has the longer lifespan.

The Oldest Polar Bear Ever

Debby is the oldest polar bear on record.

A The 9 Best Books About Bears – Safety Tips and Species Insights Reviewed and Ranked

Debby lived in the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada. She was born in the Russian Arctic in 1966, moving to North America at the age of one, shortly after the death of her mother.

During her time at the zoo, Debby mothered six cubs with her mate, Skipper. Polar bears don’t typically mate for life in the wild. Debby and Skipper, however, were life partners, albeit captive ones.

Full frame of a polar bear's face. The polar bear is with with a black nose and black eyes.
The oldest polar bear on record is a female who was called Debby.

©iStock.com/ElliotHurwitt

Zookeepers euthanized Debby after she showed signs of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.

Debby lived for 41 years, passing away in November of 2008.

Though she lived in captivity, It’s unlikely that a polar bear in the wild would have outlived her. The vast majority of captive animals live longer than their feral counterparts.

The Oldest Grizzly Bear Ever

The title of oldest Grizzly bear is a little less certain than Debby’s title.

Grizzies outnumber polar bears in the wild and in captivity.

Still, the oldest grizzly on record is Brownie. Brownie was at least 56 years old at the time of his death. This is an incredible age for a grizzly! Most grizzlies in the wild only live to be between 20 -25 years old.

Brownie began life in a circus, before being rescued in 1968. Brownie was, no doubt, trained to walk on his hind legs and perform tricks like cycling or doing somersaults. These acts are common in circuses, often involving cruel and inhumane training.

After his rescue, Brownie moved to Kansas Sunset Zoological Park, where he was cared for by compassionate zookeepers.

Brownie arrived at the park in 1968 at the age of 14. Brownie lived at the zoo for an astounding 42 years! Before euthanizing Brownie, zookeepers treated him to his favorite watermelon-and-salmon dinner.

A brown grizzly bear ,standing tall on its hind legs against a background of dark green pine trees, in a forest setting.
The oldest grizzly was at least 56 at the time of its death.

©Degimages/Shutterstock.com

Sadly, Brownie’s physical condition was declining quickly and there was nothing veterinarians could do to halt his decline or improve his quality of life. As one of the world’s oldest, if not the oldest grizzly ever, it is astounding that Brownie’s body provided for him for as long as it did.

Bear Lifespans in The Wild

The lifespans of bears in the wild are significantly shorter than those in captivity, but there are still a couple of notable exceptions.

A grizzly no younger than 34 years old was rediscovered recently in Yellowstone National Park. Marked by park staff decades earlier, the animal was not to be spotted again until 2021. He is one of the oldest wild grizzlies on record, sharing that record with the oldest Kodiac bear (closest relative to the grizzly) on record.

In 2013, a wild black bear, initially identified in 1981 by wildlife researchers, died just shy of her 40th birthday. Bear 56, as the bear was called, is the oldest wild black bear on record. The oldest-known polar bear in the wild was 32 years old when it died, although it’s likely that there have been older ones.

The ages of previously unmarked bears in the wild can be reliably determined by counting the layers of cementum on their teeth. Every year, just like the rings on a tree, bears develop another layer.

What’s Up Next?

Leave a comment