Some guests first discovered Chester during a visit to the Zoo, but many people knew of him before even stepping foot on Zoo grounds. They had seen friends’ home movies and photos of him in action—Chester was photographed millions of times over the years. When a Zoo tour bus pulled up to his grotto, Chester would try to coax a bear biscuit from the driver by waving, first his right paw, then his left, rubbing his stomach, or rising on his hind legs to his full 10-foot height.
The quintessential crowd pleaser, Chester came to the Zoo in 1970 as a five-month-old orphan cub. During his 15 years, Chester displayed cleverness and charisma that were as impressive as his huge size. Jim Joiner, Chester’s main keeper, said he was the most intelligent animal he had ever worked with. He noted that sometimes visitors jokingly wondered if what they were seeing was really “a human in a bear suit.” One thing was certain: Chester was “smarter than your average bear.” He was also one of the most popular animals at the Zoo and is still fondly remembered by many San Diegans.