HomeOutdoorsNewsWinnie the Grizzly Bear Dies in Zoo, Tragic Details Released

Winnie the Grizzly Bear Dies in Zoo, Tragic Details Released

by Jon D. B.
grizzly bear in zoo
A grizzly bear, an endangered animal species, sits in an exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Kansas’s Brit Spaugh Zoo has lost one of their four grizzly bears, Winnie, at 10-years-old to a tragic, painful stomach condition. His cause of death has now been made public by the City of Great Bend.

Brit Spaugh Zoo is a storied facility with a deep grizzly bear history. There, Winnie lived with two siblings, Pooh and Piglet, as popular ambassadors for their endangered species. As Great Bend’s news release states, the three grizzlies “have been bedded down and spending the winter in their stalls since mid-November,” but zoo staff would notice Winnie struggling during what equates to their natural hyperphagia and hibernation stages.

During the cold months, Winnie lost interest in food, became lethargic, and lost his spark. His keepers began administering electrolytes and foods in an attempt to feed the ailing grizzly bear. But Winnie would remain uninterested. Then, the worst happened.

“Unfortunately, during our morning rounds (Monday), Winnie was discovered to have passed away sometime overnight,” the zoo released in a statement via local 12 News. A necropsy would follow the unexpected tragedy, in which officials found Winnie had suffered a gastric torsion. This, as the zoo explains, is “a life-threatening and often fatal condition in which the stomach becomes overstretched.”

Staff ‘Absolutely Devastated’ by Loss of Winnie Bear

A painful condition, gastric torsion rotates the stomach and can cut off the blood supply to an animal’s gastrointestinal tract. “An exploratory surgery would have been the only way to discover this condition and is not something easily accomplished in an animal as large as a grizzly bear,” the zoo continues. “We did come across a few other abnormal findings and samples and tissues were sent to K-State for further evaluation.”

As one would expect, the Brit Spaugh Zoo staff is “absolutely devastated” by the loss of Winnie.

“We consider these animals to be a part of our family and losing one of our family members takes a significant toll on our staff,” the zoo laments.

Currently, “Winnie’s siblings, Piglet and Pooh, appear to be handing it as expected and will have each other and their keepers during their grieving process,” staff adds.

Brit Spaugh Zoo Has a Long History of Rescuing Troubled Grizzly Bears

Winnie’s death follows an unusual and troubling history with the species at Brit Spaugh Zoo. In the 1980s, infamous “Bear Sixty,” known as Maggie to keepers, came into their care. In her time as Bear Sixty, the grizzly was a “three time offender” in Montana with a penchant for raiding dumpsters. Montana park officials would deem her a threat to human safety, as habituated bears often are. She was to be euthanized as a result.

Maggie had two cubs that were too young to survive on their own, however. So Montana rangers would attempt to relocate them via trapping and helicopter transport. But tragedy struck when their trap malfunctioned mid-flight, causing it to plummet hundreds of feet into the forest below. Amazingly, one cub survived, but the sibling died of her wounds a day later.

As for Bear Sixty, she would relocate to the Border Grizzly Project. There, she was kept in a cell of a former World War II internment camp. While imprisoned, “researchers used her in their search for an effective bear repellent to help cut down on human-bear conflict,” Brit Spaugh explains.

It was Bear Sixty that led to the finding of capsaicin, our modern-day pepper spray, as the first effective bear repellant. And it was Brit Spaugh Zoo that would rescue her from this facility, and the name “Maggie” stuck. There, she would live a long, content life with her grizzly bear companion, Max.

Outsider sends our best to the Brit Spaugh Zoo during this difficult time.