SEATTTLE ‒ Randy, a beloved sloth bear at Woodland Park Zoo, was humanely euthanized yesterday after cancer was discovered in his liver and gall bladder. He had been showing signs of declining health and inactivity.
Two other animals, Simon, an elderly siamang, and Chioke (chee-OH-kee), the zoo’s sole male giraffe, also are receiving daily veterinary care for serious medical conditions.
Health issues and deaths are natural occurrences at zoos. As part of Woodland Park Zoo’s exemplary animal care, animal care staff closely monitor the health and welfare of the zoo’s collection of 1,200 animals on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.
Zookeepers noted the 17-year-old sloth bear was lethargic and steadily losing his appetite. He was immobilized for a health evaluation, including ultrasound diagnostics performed by Dr. Rob Liddell, a volunteer radiologist with the Center for Diagnostic Imaging (Seattle) and a zoo board member. “The exam revealed cancer in his liver and gall bladder, which is found in both wild sloth bears and those in human care,” explained Dr. Darin Collins, the zoo’s director of Animal Health. “Because the cancer was not treatable and he was in obvious discomfort, we made the humane decision to euthanize the bear.”
The zoo’s animal health team performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) at the zoo, which confirmed the cancer. The final cause of death and related findings are pending complete results of histology and other diagnostic testing, which is the protocol for all animal deaths at the zoo. The remains of the bear will become part of the research and education collection at The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
Randy arrived at the zoo in 1996 from Detroit Zoo under the sloth bear Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability among North American zoos. In 2004 he sired two offspring with his mate Khali. Randy became a father again last month when his new mate, 7-year-old Tasha, gave birth. The mother and 3-week-old cub are off view in a maternity den where animal management staff is monitoring the new family via a live web cam.
“Randy was a very special animal with a gentle and mellow personality. Our zoo family is mourning his passing but we are grateful his offspring will carry his legacy in the North American population of zoos by inspiring zoo-goers to learn about and help preserve sloth bears. We look forward to sharing his new cub with the community,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.
When an animal’s health is compromised and signs of deterioration progress, the zoo’s team of animal management and animal health staff discusses options, consults with peers and other experts (when necessary), and determines in advance when euthanasia is the best option. “We maintain the quality of life for elderly animals as long as humanely possible,” explained Collins. This high standard of animal health also applies to all of the animals in the zoo’s collection, not just the geriatric individuals.
The siamang and giraffe are in declining health and may also be euthanized or die in the near future. Simon, a 32-year-old siamang, is showing age-related quality of life issues such as decreasing appetite and mobility and weight loss. The zoo’s animal health team examined him this week to diagnose recent weight loss and lack of appetite. “Simon is currently stable but his quality of life is declining rapidly,” explained Collins.
Chioke, a 7-year-old giraffe, has been under observation and care over the past few years for a long history of intermittent health concerns. According to Dr. Kelly Helmick, the zoo’s associate veterinarian, the concerns became significant and progressive in December and the giraffe was placed under intensive care. Among the health concerns, Chioke developed a bacterial sinus infection, decreased appetite, dehydration and blood in his urine. “We have him under close observation and intensive care. He is not responding appropriately to treatment and supportive care, and his prognosis is guarded,” said Helmick. The ill giraffe is about to become a first-time father this summer when his mate, 6-year-old Olivia, is expected to give birth. In addition to Olivia is her 5-year-old sister, Tufani.
The zoo’s sloth bears have been off public exhibit since ground was broken last fall for the new, state-of-the-art Asian tropical forest exhibit complex as part of the More Wonder More Wild Campaign. Phase one of the 2-acre complex will open May 4 and will feature Asian small-clawed otters, a tropical aviary and a kid’s nature play area. Upon completion, phase two of the exhibit complex will house Malayan tigers and sloth bears, including the newborn sloth bear cub.
Sloth bears ‒ native to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka ‒ are an endangered species. Fewer than 10,000 remain in the wild. Their survival is challenged by fragmented populations, deforestation and the bear parts trade. The average life expectancy is 25 years for sloth bears in captivity; it is unknown how long they live in the wild.
Siamangs, an endangered species, are native to the island of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. Overpopulation, logging, agriculture and other human activities are rapidly destroying forest environments required by siamangs and other gibbon species for their survival. To produce their loud call, siamangs have a throat pouch that acts as a resonator. When inflated, the pouch amplifies its hooting and barking to ear-splitting levels. The life expectancy of siamangs is 25 to 30 years in the wild and up to 30 years in zoos.
Giraffes belong to the family Giraffidae, which has only one other species, the okapi. There are nine recognized subspecies of giraffe. All subspecies of giraffe are distinguished by their coat pattern and geographical distribution. Giraffes live mostly in eastern sub-Saharan Africa, while certain populations also live in the western and southern parts of the continent. Giraffes live for 10-15 years in the wild and average 25 years at zoos.
The zoo is in the home stretch of an $80 million More Wonder More Wild Campaign, with about $9.7 million remaining to be raised for the Asian Tropical Forest Initiative. To support the campaign and see artist renderings of the design plans, go to www.morewonder.org.
For more information or to become a zoo member, visit www.zoo.org or call 206.548.2500 or 548.2599 (TTY).