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Beloved sloth bear mates die within week of each other at Attleboro zoo

Two sloth bears at Capron Park Zoo in Attleboro died within a week of each other.
Two sloth bears at Capron Park Zoo in Attleboro died within a week of each other. (Capron Park Zoo)

They met nearly 20 years ago in Attleboro.

There, they spent all their time together, and eventually had three little ones.

Goof had moved from his home at the San Diego Zoo 19 years ago, and Amy arrived from hers in Philadelphia. They met at the Capron Park Zoo in Attleboro, where they became the stars of the show. They bonded over the years at the zoo, and produced the three cubs.

But three weeks ago, the two sloth bears — Amy and Goof — began showing signs of liver disease. As their health deteriorated, the zoo made what it said was the only “humane decision” — euthanize them both to put them out of their pain. They died within a week of one another.

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Amy, 25, and Goof, 27, were two of about 135 animals at Capron Park, and the only two sloth bears at the zoo.

“We have a lot of keepers that have been here a lot of years and have basically grown up with Amy and Goof,” said zoo veterinarian Lisa Abbo. “They were a very popular animal. They were charismatic, fun to watch.”

It was hard on the zoo staff when both of the animals fell ill. Amy’s condition was at first much worse than that of her mate. After about a week of antibiotic treatment, Abbo said it became clear that Amy’s condition would not improve. The bear was euthanized on Sept. 3.

In the days that followed, Goof’s condition deteriorated quickly, giving Abbo and the other zoo officials little time to respond. Goof was euthanized Monday.

Abbo said it is not rare to see the health of an animal deteriorate after a longtime mate dies. The average life span of a sloth bear in captivity is 30 years, so both bears were considered geriatric.

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“Goof’s disease was a little bit more subtle,” she said. “I feel like the stress of Goof losing Amy may have pushed him into showing his clinical signs much quicker.”

Abbo performed necropsies on the bears, and she believes they may have had liver cancer, but final results are not in yet. Liver disease is a common killer of sloth bears, a threatened species primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, but researchers have not yet figured out why.

“As a veterinarian, you want to try to get your answer, so you can best treat your animal, and if you don’t know what you’re treating, it can be very difficult,” she said.

For now, the zoo is without any examples of the long-haired bears that often eat insects and fruit in captivity. Amy and Goof’s three cubs have since moved on to other zoos.

Capron Park Zoo director Jean Benchimol said the attraction will look into the availability of sloth bears domestically. Nearly all of Capron’s animals are born in captivity, and they are usually transported from other zoo exhibits.


Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.