ASHEBORO — Yepani, a grizzly bear who has lived at the N.C. Zoo for 25 years and was known for his gentle and patient personality, died Wednesday, the zoo announced.
“Yepani started experiencing clinical symptoms of intervertebral disk disease late last week,” said Dr. J.B. Minter, the zoo's director of animal health in a news release. “The rapid progression of this disease severely diminished his quality of life and the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Yepani was made Wednesday morning."
A necropsy confirmed the suspicion of IVDD.
Yepani arrived at the zoo in November 1994 from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. He originally was a “nuisance bear” from Yellowstone National Park. Nuisance bears have lost their fear of humans because they start to associate people as suppliers of food due to irresponsible behavior on the part of humans, the zoo said.
Another bear from Yellowstone named Tommo also came to live at the zoo because of similar circumstances a few months later.
Male grizzlies in the wild live about 10 to 11 years and can weigh 400 to 700 pounds. Yepani weighed 400 pounds and was estimated to be 29 years old, the announcement said.
Yepani was the first grizzly bear to call the N.C. Zoo home. The name Yepani means “Autumn” in the Native American Shoshone dialect because of the time of year he arrived at the zoo.
“Millions of zoo guests over the years were able to connect with Yepani,” said animal-management supervisor Chris Lasher, who started working at the zoo the same year Yepani came, said in the news release. He was usually the first to learn new tasks the keepers asked of him, Lasher said.
"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,” Lasher said.
Tommo, which means "Winter" in Native American Paiute, is estimated to be 29 years old and weighs around 650 pounds. He remains on display.