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Polar bear Payton from North Carolina Zoo passes away


North Carolina Zoo mourns the unexpected loss of this beloved polar bear who succumbed to health issues while being transported to Louisville Zoo

Nineteen-year-old male polar bear Payton from the North Carolina Zoo passed away on October 25, 2023, as he was being transferred to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky as part of a polar bear breeding partnership. According to a North Carolina Zoo release,1 the staff and animal care team are devastated by the loss.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Zoo.

The transfer was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and a care team traveled with Payton. The team performed routine checks on the polar bear throughout the trip, however, on the second check when they were less than 2 hours from North Carolina Zoo, Payton was non-responsive. He was immediately transported to the closest animal veterinarian, who confirmed Payton's death.1

Following his sudden death, a necropsy was performed by North Carolina Zoo veterinary staff. In the release, Jb Minter, DVM, MS, DACZM, director of animal health and chief veterinarian at the zoo stated, “The necropsy indicated some evidence of cardiac disease, a tumor on his adrenal gland as well as some moderate osteoarthritis in keeping with his advanced age. Tissue samples will be sent to outside laboratories for further testing to help determine the cause of his death." A full investigation into the incident will further look into Payton’s death. While polar bears in the wild can live up to 30 years old, most die before they reach 25.2

In January 2021, Payton was brought to the North Carolina Zoo to be a mate for female polar bear Anana, as recommended by AZA. Prior, he was at the Memphis Zoo and was born at Brookfield Zoo November 8, 2003.

Polar bear keeper Melissa Vindigni expressed,1 "He was the best boy bear. His trust was worth the effort to earn, and it was a privilege and honor to have earned that. He loved training and interacting with his keepers and vet techs and his trust in us really shined with his willingness to work with us on his own health care. I learned so much from him and I was blessed to work with him. I will never forget the things he taught me."


  1. North Carolina Zoo mourns the loss of polar bear Payton. News release. North Carolina Zoo. October 26, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023. https://www.nczoo.org/news/north-carolina-zoo-mourns-loss-polar-bear-payton
  2. Polar bear. The National Wildlife Federation. Accessed October 31, 2023. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Polar-Bear
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