Rare Bear Starved in Zoo Mistake

T O L E D O, Ohio, Dec. 14, 2000 -- A sloth bear on loan to the Toledo Zoo diedof dehydration because zoo officials, who thought she was pregnant,mistakenly denied her food and water for weeks.

“In this tragic case, mistakes were made,” said WilliamDennler, executive director of the Toledo Zoo. “Our checks andbalances failed,”

A three-page investigative report released Wednesday said zooofficials didn’t know enough about breeding the endangered species.

Bear Not Hibernating

Zoo employees left the 18-year-old bear, named Medusa, isolatedin a den Nov. 17, with a short-term supply of food and water. Theemployees thought she was pregnant and would enter into anear-hibernation state to give birth by early January.

Medusa was found dead Dec. 4 and wasn’t pregnant, the reportsaid.

The report said Tim French, curator of large mammals at theToledo Zoo, mistakenly believed the sloth bear was among severalbear species that went into a near-hibernation state when pregnant,and didn’t need extra food and water.

A pregnant sloth bear would have needed weekly offerings of foodand water in order to survive, the report said. Isolating pregnantbears is a common tactic for breeding because pregnant bears arehypersensitive to perceived threats.

The report was written by a five-member panel of the ToledoZoological Association, the board that oversees the nonprofit zoo.It was written after a one-day inquiry Monday of zoo employees.

Dennler said no zoo employees have been disciplined.

Bear Was on Loan

The Detroit Zoo loaned Medusa to the Toledo Zoo last year so shecould breed with its one male sloth bear, Hans.

The zoo isolated Medusa last year and replenished her food andwater weekly. She failed to get pregnant, the report said.

French blamed the unsuccessful breeding, in part, on humancontact. So he decided next time to drop the weekly visualcheck-ins and weekly food and water replenishments, the reportsaid.

That mistake was compounded by not checking with any other bearexperts, the report said.

The report also blamed Medusa’s death on a lack ofadministrative oversight for her pregnancy.

Dennler said the zoo has adopted the report’s suggestionsgetting the approval of zoo veterinarians and administrators beforeisolating animals or withholding food from them.

Sloth bears are native to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.Scientists estimate fewer than 25,000 are left in the wild, andfewer than 100 are in North American zoos. They typically live intotheir 20s in the wild and into their 30s in captivity.

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