Take a sneak peek inside a polar bear examination at the North Carolina Zoo

ASHEBORO, N.C. — FOX8’s Shannon Smith got a close-up look recently at a polar bear examination at the North Carolina Zoo.

Chief Veterinarian Dr. J.B. Minter prepared the team for the annual exam of the male polar bear. The 11-year-old bear, named Nik, weighs about 1,000 pounds and can be dangerous.

Dr. Minter first tranquilized the bear with a dart injection.

“They have a lot of blubber or fat overlaying the area where we are going to dart so I have to get all the way through that fat layer and into the muscle area,” Minter said.

Once Nik was asleep, the team began the exam. The top priority: Keep both Nik and the team safe. An emergency escape plan was in place. And the curator of mammals stood by with a shotgun as a last resort.

A staff member checked Nik’s blood pressure just like they would a human. They moved his joints, looking for arthritis, and took X-rays.

They drew blood for further testing – and even gave him a dental checkup.

“He had a little dental tarter … you go to the dentist twice a year, he goes to the dentist once a year. We were able to scrape some of that tarter off.”

The entire procedure lasted about 30 minutes.

As soon as the vets finished, Minter and his staff removed the anesthesia and everyone all quickly left the facility.

First impressions: Nik looks really good, despite some chronic arthritis in his right ankle.

Within a few minutes, Nik started to move around. And within an hour he was up and moving.