A beloved grizzly bear at the NC Zoo dies

Yepani, the grizzly who began life as a “nuisance bear” in Yellowstone National Park but charmed visitors at the N.C. Zoo for 25 years, has died.

Zoo officials said in a news release that the “gentle and patient” bear had developed intervertebral disc disease and was euthanized Wednesday.

“Millions of zoo guests over the years were able to connect with Yepani,” said Animal Management Supervisor Chris Lasher, in the release. “He participated in his own care and was usually the first to learn new tasks the keepers asked of him. 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.”

Yepani arrived in Asheboro from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo in 1994, the first grizzly to take up permanent residence. A few months later, he was joined by Tommo, a fellow Yellowstone native.

Bears become classified as a nuisance when they lose their fear of humans and see them as food suppliers, the release said.

As a young grizzly, Yepani would steal coolers and backpacks from Yellowstone campers. The zoo offered tips for avoiding contributing to bears’ “nuisance” development at www.bearwise.org

Male grizzlies can live about 10 years, growing to somewhere between 400 and 700 pounds. Yepani came in at the low end of that scale, living to an estimated 28 years.

“Yepani was smaller than Tommo but was definitely mightier,” said Alexis Rowe, one of his zookeepers “Because of his smaller size, the staff gave him nicknames including ‘Little Bear,’ ‘Teacup Bear’ and ‘Rollie Pollie.’ He loved to roll in fresh mulch and other natural materials laid out in his habitat.”

Yepani means “Autumn” in the Native American Shoshone, marking the season of his arrival at the zoo.

The zoo estimated 55,000 wild grizzly bears in North America, most of them Alaska.