Oldest grizzly bear in captivity dies after inspiring conservation


    Sunset Zoological Park has lost a very special resident. On May 22, Brownie, a grizzly bear, was euthanized because of serious medical problems. Zookeepers and other staff gave Brownie a special dinner of his favorite food – salmon and watermelon – and said their goodbyes.
    “It became apparent that his quality of life was not improving, and was deteriorating rapidly despite the best efforts of all involved,” said Scott Shoemaker, director of Sunset Zoo, in a press release on the zoo’s Web site. “Brownie’s veterinarian team and zoo staff determined that the only humane thing to do was to euthanize him.”
    Brownie arrived at the zoo in 1968 after retiring from the circus. His exact age is not certain, but he was no younger than 56 years old when he died, making him possibly the world’s oldest grizzly bear. According to Lousch, most grizzly bears live to be about 20 to 25 years old, meaning Brownie was about 150 in “bear years.”
    “It was hard to lose Brownie, but it was equally hard to know he was sad, he was suffering,” said Allie Lousch, marketing director for the Sunset Zoo.
    Roger Adams, K-State’s rare books librarian and member of Friends of the Sunset Zoo, said he visits the zoo often with his family and was sad to hear of Brownie’s passing.
    “The first time I saw Brownie, I was surprised to see how active he was at his age, and I think that’s a testament to the great care he had from the zookeepers and K-State Veterinary Medicine,” Adams said.
    Brownie was not the only animal in need of special care because of his age at the zoo. In the wild, chimpanzees rarely live past 40 years of age, but Sunset Zoo’s oldest chimp, Suzie, is 55.
    According to a May 8 article by ThePilot.com, zoos across the country are finding themselves caring for more elderly animals than ever before, thanks to the advancement of modern medicine and the continued improvement of zoos. Though this helps preserve endangered species, zoo officials say it can also present problems to both the zoo and the animal.
    “The problems that we see in older animals are similar to those we see in older people,” said Dr. Mike Loomis, chief veterinarian at the North Carolina Zoological Park, in ThePilot.com article.
    Arthritis, hearing and sight loss, cancer, and even dementia can affect elderly animals. The medications they require to live comfortably can be expensive, but most accredited zoos, like Sunset Zoo, do not euthanize animals until it becomes absolutely necessary.
    “Our mission is to inspire conservation, and Brownie was a great spokesbear for that,” said Lousch.