COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The staff at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo announced the death of one of their longest residents on Friday night. Honey, a 29-year-old female Asiatic black bear started showing signs of a sudden illness and pain on Friday morning. A thorough examination by the zoo's veterinary hospital discovered serious age-related conditions.
"The difficult but humane decision was made to euthanize her," marketing director Jenny Koch said in a news release.
Honey and her sister Beezler came to the zoo back in 1994 when the pair were just about 18 months old. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of only four zoos in North America accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to house Asiatic black bears.
“I had walked by their exhibit for years, but until I met and started working with them a couple of years ago, I never realized how cool they were,” said Courtney Rogers, lead animal keeper for the sisters. “Even though they were sisters and lived together all their lives, Honey and Beezler had very different personalities. We often described Honey as a ‘sweet old lady,’ but she could also be super assertive at times.”
Honey and Beezler are the oldest-known Asiatic black bears currently living in human care. The media life expectancy for females of her species is 29.3 years.
“Caring for Honey and Beezler was what made me realize I really love bears,” said Erika Furnes, another animal keeper for the bears.
“They inspired me to champion an Asiatic black bear research and recovery program in Vietnam, which will receive funding thanks to our Zoo members this year. The sisters did their jobs perfectly, which is to make people fall in love with them, and in turn, inspire conservation action for their relatives in the wild.”
Rogers said the zoo provided unique training and care with Honey for specific age-related ailments. When keepers notices some cloudiness in one of her eyes, a veterinary ophthalmologist recommended eye drops twice a day.
“Honey quickly learned to put her face through a modified blood draw port in her den. She was very good about holding still to let us put in the eye drops, and in return, she got a special treat of eating applesauce straight from the pouch," Honey said.
Honey also exhibited patience with other veterinary care procedures such as blood draws where she would place her front paw into a specially designed sleeve.
“Honey was shorter than Beezler, so we had to make a makeshift ‘booster seat’ for her, in order for her to get in position to put her paw through the port,” said Rogers. “She not only learned to use the booster, which was a tire filled with hay, and present her paw, but she also waited patiently when the vein proved more difficult for the vet team to find than usual.”
Keepers will now keep an extra-close eye on Beezler as she adjusts to Honey's absence. Koch reports that Beezler spent time with Honey on her final day, even cleaning her paws off for her.
On Saturday morning, Beezler came right over to the keepers in the morning. Her behavior seemed normal. She received a lot of special enrichment today, including water in her pool and fresh mud puddles to wallow in.
Keepers will continue to give her extra attention in the coming days and weeks, to help make the transition easier for her.
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