Alaska's Mr. Popularity: Binky The Bear

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A polar bear that chewed on a couple of folks may seem an unlikely cult hero. But this is Alaska, and, well, things are different here.

Not that people don't feel sympathy for those nursing their wounds. It's just that Alaskans think you get what you deserve when you act stupid around a wild animal - even one that lives in a zoo.

"I feel sorry for the people who got hurt, but in both cases it was their own fault," says Sammye Seawell, director of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, where Binky the polar bear lives.

The first problem arose in July, when an Australian tourist paid a high price for venturing too close to Binky's cage.

The woman was climbing over the second of two safety rails to get a close-up photo when the 850-pound bear stuck his head through the bars and grabbed her in his jaws.

She escaped with a broken leg and bite wounds. Another visitor caught the scuffle on videotape, including a shot of Binky pacing around his pen later with the woman's tennis shoe in his mouth.

That attack spawned a T-shirt featuring Binky, the tennis shoe and the words "Send more tourists - this one got away."

Alaska shook its collective head and chalked the mauling up to tourist naivete. The woman later earned a measure of local respect by admitting she was at fault and promising not to sue.

Six weeks later, the 20-year-old bear was back on the front page. Two Anchorage teen-agers decided - apparently after a long night of drinking - to take a dip in the pool Binky shares with his furry companion, Nuka.

Police say the pair sneaked into the zoo and were stripping down in front of the cage when Binky showed up and locked his jaws onto one of them. The teen was pulled away by his friend, but not before Binky had left him with leg injuries. Both teens face trespassing and underage-drinking charges.

Since then, it's been take-no-prisoners Binkymania. There are jokes - "The state won't be asking for any jail time for the kid - it already has its pound of flesh."

There is music - a local comedy revue worked up a rap song by "Bad Blood Binky" that includes the lines "Drink a case of Bud and act real cool/Like a teenage mutant brain-dead fool."

And there have been letters to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News. All pro-Binky.

"When foolish people place their name on Binky's dinner menu, we should have the decency to allow Binky to eat his entire meal, in peace," one said.

Zoo director Seawell says she's gotten more than 100 letters from around the world, and not one of them blamed the bear.

"Everybody thinks people harassing Binky could get him killed," either for killing someone or to save someone who ventures into his cage, she said. "That's the last thing we want."

To protect the bears from the visitors, the zoo has erected two strands of electric wire outside the cage and installed a motion sensor that blares an alarm.