Friday, April 19
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NC Zoo to Investigate Death of Polar Bear While being Transported

Photo provided by N.C. Zoo

ASHEBORO N.C. – The North Carolina Zoo says they will investigate what led to the death of a male polar bear during a transfer to another zoo earlier this week.

In a press release, the North Carolina Zoo announced that on October 25th, 2023, Payton, the Zoo’s male polar bear, had died while being transported to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.

According to the N.C. Zoo, an experienced care team, left the North Carolina Zoo with Payton, performing routine checks on the 1,000-pound polar bear during the trip.

“On the second check, less than two hours away from the North Carolina Zoo, the care team found Payton non-responsive. He was immediately transported to a nearby large animal veterinarian, who confirmed that Payton had passed,” said the Zoo in the press release.

The transfer was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as part of it’s polar bear breeding partnership. As a member of the AZA, the N.C. Zoo often receives and transfers animals based on AZA recommendations to find the best breeding partners.

The bear’s body was returned back to the North Carolina Zoo, where a necropsy (an animal autopsy) was conducted by Zoo veterinary staff. According to Dr. Jb Minter, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Health, “The necropsy indicated some evidence of cardiac disease, a tumor on his adrenal gland as well as some moderate osteoarthritis in keeping with his advanced age. Tissue samples will be sent to outside laboratories for further testing to help determine the cause of his death.”

The Zoo says Zoo staff and animal care team are “devastated by the loss of this beloved polar bear,” and have promised to conduct a full investigation into the incident.

Payton was born at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in 2003 where he was named after Walter Payton – the late running back for the Chicago Bears NFL team. In 2006 he was transferred to the Memphis Zoo.

In 2021, Payton replaced Nikita, the N.C. Zoo’s former male polar who was moved to Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City after failing to produce a cub with Anana after five breeding seasons.

In the press release, Polar bear keeper Melissa Vindigni described her experience working with Payton: “He was the best boy bear. His trust was worth the effort to earn and it was a privilege and honor to have earned that. He loved training and interacting with his keepers and vet techs and his trust in us really shined with his willingness to work with us on his own health care. I learned so much from him and I was blessed to work with him. I will never forget the things he taught me.”