Meet Val and Indie

If you've ever visited the Topeka Zoo, you may have come across two beautiful black bears by the names of Val and Indie out in Hill’s Black Bear Woods. Although they are the same species of bear, when it comes to looks and personality, they cannot be any more different from one another. With a bit of time and inside knowledge, you too can differentiate the two like our own Keepers! We asked our Animal Curator who is in charge of that section of the Zoo, Shanna Simpson, to share some of that insight and knowledge of them with us.


When looking at the two, there is a simple way to immediately tell them apart. Indie is the smaller and darker of the two, with a dark brown coat. Even when alone, you can instantly point her out by the white stripe that she has on her chest. Val on the other hand is a much lighter cinnamon color. Her coat grows in a blond color, and when she sheds her coat every summer, it looks as though she has frosted tips. Her keepers like to joke that she is a member of a 90's boy band with those looks. Looks though, aren't the only way they are different from one another.


Shanna shared with us that Val has always been so bold. When they first introduced her to the main bear habitat, she bolted straight into an area that she was not supposed to be in. After a bit of coaxing, they were able to get her back into the main yard, and then proceeded to modify some things in the habitat to keep her out of trouble. "Val always keeps us on our toes!" Not much has changed since she first came to the Zoo, she is still rambunctious, fearless and so much fun as the day she arrived. Meanwhile, Indie is much more on the shier side. She came to the Zoo when she was just 5 pounds and still on formula. Our keepers got to play with her and help get her acclimated to her new home. With her rough start in life, she was always skittish and makes Keepers work for her trust. Although it takes awhile to build a good relationship with her, once she has formed that bond, she is very playful and will do anything for you!


As you can imagine, when they were introduced to one another, Val was very excited to investigate while Indie wasn’t so sure about Val. It took Indie a few hours, but she quickly realized what fun Val is to play with. They have had a good relationship ever since, they always went into torpor together in the same den until winter of 2019 when they sadly got too big for the den. Now they go to sleep for the winter in separate dens but you can be sure to find them out together having fun as soon as spring rolls around. With an amazing bear habitat for them to explore, they have plenty of trees to climb on, a pool, multiple substrates (mulch, grass, dirt, sand), tire hammocks, logs and training areas. There is always something for them to do and get into, like-wise their keepers are always there trying to keep up with the pair!