It’s never pleasant when your beloved family pet goes missing, but, when said “pet” is a 9ft tall grizzly bear weighing 60 stone, it becomes a serious cause of concern.
Not surprisingly, the disappearance of Hercules the bear on the remote Scottish island of Benbecula on 20 August 1980 sparked a full-scale air and sea search that attracted the attention of the world’s media for the best part of a month.
A star in his own right, Hercules was owned by professional wrestler Andy Robin, who bought him as a cub in the summer of 1975 – when it was still legal to do such a thing - from the Highland Wildlife Park, Kingussie, for just fifty pounds.
Brought up to live and eat in the household along with Andy and his wife Maggie, Hercules was trained up to play fight with the world champion wrestler and would go on to appear on television and on film numerous times.
Man and bear quickly developed a uniquely special bond of trust that would last more than a quarter of a century – with one not-so-minor blip.
Fast forward to 1980, Hercules was starring in a Kleenex commercial in the Hebrides when the bear very unexpectedly decided to make a dash for it.
With the small island community on alert, it was initially thought the search would involve following a grim trail of sheep carcasses. However, having been brought up on a decidedly human diet of cooked meat and enjoying everything from baked beans to fizzy pop, Hercules didn’t touch any of the island’s woolly inhabitants.
The bear would remain missing for a full 24 days, before a crofter spotted the half-ton animal swimming in the waters around a mile into the distance.
Hercules was shot with a tranquiliser dart, captured in a net, and swiftly transferred back to a mightily relieved Andy Robin, who, over the next few days, revived the grizzly with large quantities of fresh milk and eggs kindly donated by the locals.
Over the course of his great escape, it was discovered Hercules had shed an astonishing 20 stone – around a third of his body weight.
Following his vanishing act, Hercules went on to become a global superstar in the 1980s, securing regular appearances on children’s television, Hollywood chat shows and even a cameo role in the James Bond flick Octopussy.
‘Hercules the Human Bear’, as he was dubbed, was also featured on the cover of Time magazine, caddied for US comedian Bob Hope at Gleneagles, received a telegram from President Ronald Reagan and was invited to promote the Miss World contest, netting owners Andy and Maggie Robin a small fortune in the process.
Hercules’ long career in the entertainment industry was brought to an abrupt end in 1996, however, when the bear suffered a slipped disc in his back while filming for a Disney documentary. He would never fully recover.
The beloved animal died in 2001 at the age of 26 – slightly exceeding the average lifespan for a grizzly bear.
The bear’s Perthshire owner Andy Robin passed away aged 84 last December.
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