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Yellowstone bear dies after getting a second chance at NC Zoo. ‘Our hearts are broken’

Tommo the bear died after 26 years at the North Carolina Zoo, officials said.

Tommo the bear died after 26 years at the North Carolina Zoo, officials said.

North Carolina Zoo

A “beloved” Yellowstone bear who found a new home in North Carolina has died, officials said.

Tommo the grizzly bear was known for taking hours to soak in the water during his time at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro, the wildlife park said Friday in a news release.

“Our hearts are broken today as we mourn the loss of our grizzly bear, Tommo,” the zoo wrote in a Facebook post. “Tommo loved water and could often be seen enjoying his pools or positioned perfectly under his waterfall.”

The zoo said it provided a second chance for Tommo, who could have been euthanized years earlier.

“Tommo arrived at the Zoo in 1995 after being identified as a ‘nuisance bear’ in Yellowstone National Park and relocated twice by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks,” officials said in a news release. “Nuisance bears have lost their fear of humans because they start to associate people as suppliers of food.”

Tommo was the last remaining grizzly bear at the N.C. Zoo after fellow Yellowstone transplant Yepani died in 2019. The zoo said it’s temporarily closing the grizzly habitat as it works with other agencies to help house other “nuisance bears.”

During his 26 years at the zoo, Tommo liked to search for treats and couldn’t stay away from the water, no matter the temperature outside.

“He was an amazing, goofy and handsome bear,” Chris Lasher, an animal management supervisor, said in the news release. “He never stopped surprising his caretakers with his intelligence and his ability to learn.”

The zoo said it decided to euthanize the 31-year-old bear after days of declining health. In the wild, grizzlies typically die by age 25 but can live for 30 years, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

“A necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed, and along with severe intervertebral disc disease, he also had a tumor on his adrenal gland, which could have been the cause of some of the intermittent clinical signs that the animal care team had been noticing,” Dr. Jb Minter, the director of animal health at the zoo, said in a news release.

Grizzlies roam several northwestern states, and bears found near Yellowstone can grow up to 700 pounds. The animals are taken from the wild if they become too accustomed to food from visitors, according to the park.

“They will eat human food and garbage where they can get it,” wildlife experts said. “This is why managers emphasize that keeping human foods secure from bears increases the likelihood that humans and bears can peacefully coexist in greater Yellowstone.”

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Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.

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