The bear that won a free Taipei trip

When Bertha the bear appeared in an urban stairwell, Cathay Pacific stepped in to help

A bear. That’s not something you expect to find in the stairwell of your home – especially not your apartment block in Mong Kok. But, back in 1974, that’s where Bertha the 50kg black bear made her first public appearance, scaring the living daylights out of a woman returning home after work, and preventing other residents from getting downstairs to the street.

Initially, the police thought they were dealing with a hoax. A sceptical officer came, saw and make a tactical retreat to a safe distance. Bertha, awoken from a nap, was not to be trifled with and bared her teeth. Reinforcements were summoned.

Why Bertha materialised in a stairwell is unclear, with a rumoured thought she may have engineered a narrow escape from a banquet. In some form of recompense for this unsavoury allegation, the police returned with fruit for her, including a drugged pear. Asleep once more, she was taken into police custody, where her chances at life were dependent on the outcome of an auction. The choice was stark: no buyer, no future.

But by now, Bertha’s fate had become a major story, and a groundswell of public opinion wanted to see her safe and well. It seemed to make sense to make her now temporary accommodation at the zoo at Hong Kong’s Botanical Gardens permanent. But there was already a pair of Malaysian sun bears in place, and three bears from two different species is definitely a crowd.

Then Cathay Pacific came to the rescue. It offered to fly Bertha, all expenses paid, to anywhere on its network. Cables were dispatched. Perth couldn’t defeat Australia’s quarantine regulations, there was no room in the zoo at Tokyo; but finally Taipei’s City Zoo found a place for her.

This was our first time carrying a bear, and the protocols were less clear than they are now. A factory was commissioned to produce a strong metal cage for Bertha’s short trip in the hold – but just in case, she was fed some more drugged pears as a preflight snack. Just a couple of hours later a groggy bear awoke in her new home where – as far as we know – she lived happily ever after.