A pair of black bears once called campus home.
From 1930 until 1963, a collection of creatures – including two bears – called the University Museum’s Zoological Park home.
The park sat on a small plot of land in what was then a courtyard between the two wings of the University Museums Building facing Washtenaw Avenue, directly across the street from where the Central Campus Recreation Building now sits.
In 1929, an anonymous donor gave the University a collection of animals native to Michigan to start the park.
The donor’s hope was that the animals would cheer up children who were being treated in the hospital located across the street from the park at the time.
The menagerie grew to include fox, opossums, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, badgers and even a bobcat and a coyote. The park also featured a pond and reptile pit stocked with snakes, frogs and a variety of turtles.
But the main attraction by far was the pair of bears named “Maize” and “Blue.”
The bears were generally lethargic, especially during the winter months, according to a 1930 account in the alumni newsletter.
“When the mercury was down to ten below, loafing around on the front porch was no occupation for a self-respecting bear, and these much-advertised beasts stay within the walls of their little round home, newly built for them behind the Museum, except when they venture out to snatch a bit of food,” the newsletter said.
Another zoo resident did manage to draw some of the attention away from Maize and Blue.
Biff the wolverine was a big attraction for students, who would often visit before football games.
Biff was moved to the park from the Detroit Zoo after a short-lived career as the University’s mascot. During the 1927 football season, Biff and another wolverine named Bennie were carted onto the field in a cage during big games. The practice was stopped after a year because the animals grew too dangerous for the handlers.
A small circular animal house in the center of the park provided the animals with shelter and connected the outdoor cages.
The animal house was demolished in 1963 to make room for an addition to the Museum of Zoology. The resident animals were relocated to other zoos and animal centers.