Beloved NC Zoo grizzly bear Yepani dies at about 28 years old

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(Valerie Abbott/North Carolina Zoo)

ASHEBORO, N.C. — A beloved grizzly bear died after 25 years at the North Carolina Zoo, according to a press release.

Yepani was known for his gentle and patient personality.

The bear was euthanized Wednesday after he began to experience clinical symptoms last week of intervertebral disk disease, often referred to as a herniated, slipped or ruptured disk. The disease is common among domestic pets. A necropsy confirmed the sickness.

“The rapid progression of this disease severely diminished his quality of life, and the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Yepani was made Wednesday morning,” said Director of Animal Health Dr. Jb Minter.

Yepani lived to about 28 years old, longer than the typical wild male grizzlies that live about 22 years.

According to the release, the bear’s death has struck an emotional chord with the zoo family.

“Grizzly bears are such an iconic North American species,” said Pat Simmons, director of the Zoo. “Yepani was a wonderful, and important, ambassador for the plight of bears in the wild and will not be forgotten.”

“I count myself privileged to have been part of his life, and I of his, for the last 25 years,” Animal Management Supervisor Chris Lasher said.

Yepani was originally a “nuisance bear” at Yellowstone National Park.

According to the N.C. Zoo, nuisance bears are not afraid of people and know that people will give them food. This tends to happen people don’t secure their food well when out camping in bear territories.

When bears get comfortable around people, this can create a threat to human safety.

Park officials became worried about Yepani when he started stealing coolers from campsites in search of food.

Usually, these nuisance bears are euthanized, but Yepani was fortunate to find a new home at the Woodland Park Zoo in Oregon.

In November 1994, Yepani would begin his life at the N.C. Zoo.

A few months later, Tommo, another bear from Yellowstone, joined him at the zoo.

Alexis Rowe, one of his zookeepers, said, “Yepani was smaller than Tommo but was definitely mightier. Because of his smaller size, the staff gave him nicknames including ‘Little Bear,’ ‘Teacup Bear’ and ‘Rollie Pollie.’ He loved to roll in fresh mulch and other natural materials laid out in his habitat.”

The zoo said Tommo weighed in at about 650 pounds, while the smaller Yepani was only 400 pounds.

Yepani was the very first grizzly bear to live at the N.C. Zoo. He was named after the Shoshone word for Autumn based on the time of year he joined the zoo family.

“Millions of Zoo guests over the years were able to connect with Yepani,” Lasher said. “He participated in his own care and was usually the first to learn new tasks the keepers asked of him. Over the years he allowed keepers to brush his teeth, listen to his heart, give him vaccines and take his blood because of the strong relationships with his keepers.”

Tommo, whose name means ‘Winter’ in Paiute, is about 29 years old. Zoo guests can still see him on habitat at the N.C. Zoo.

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