Sammy, one of the OKC Zoo’s beloved black bears, passed away Sunday, August 5. Sammy had been receiving treatments for arthritis since 2014 and cold laser treatment since his annual exam in March. Caretakers had been keeping a particularly watchful eye on him since Friday, when he was demonstrating signs of pain and weakness, such as having difficulty walking and not eating. Sammy seemed to improve Saturday, but was having significant difficulty getting up and walking on Sunday. Because his quality of life was severely diminished and he was no longer responding to pain medication, the difficult decision was made to humanely euthanize Sammy. He was off public view at the time.
Sammy came to the Zoo in 2007 when he was about 7 years old. Because he came from a private donor, his exact birth date is unknown, but occurred sometime between 1999 and 2001, making him about 18 at the time of his passing. Sammy’s life pre-Zoo was not ideal. His front claws were removed and he was severely overweight due to poor nutrition. We worked diligently to bring him to good health.
During his routine health exam in March, the Zoo’s veterinary team detected worsening arthritis in Sammy’s toes, wrists and elbows, plus some degeneration in his spine. Even though Sammy was relatively young (some black bears in human care live into their 30s), the de-clawing had significantly altered the structure of Sammy’s front paws making them more susceptible to the condition. Plus, the extra weight he carried contributed to the wearing down of his joints. Vet staff worked with caretakers to develop behavior training that allowed them to administer cold laser therapy to Sammy on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately, Sammy’s condition progressively worsened until last weekend when he was demonstrating visible signs of discomfort and pain. As one of Sammy’s caretakers since he arrived at the Zoo more than a decade ago, the decision to euthanize was not an easy one to make, but it was necessary due his diminished quality of life.
A necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed after he was euthanized. The vet team reported no abnormalities other than damaged joints resulting from arthritis.
Black bears Maynard, 13, and Woody, 12, remain in their habitat at Oklahoma Trails at the OKC Zoo. The Zoo is also home to grizzly bear brothers Will and Wylie, both 15. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that black bears are a species of least concern with a growing population in the wild, although they are facing habitat loss due to human development.
--Shawn Sims, assistant curator – carnivores
Photo credit: Rachel Sides, carnivore caretaker