New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo has lost its last black bear, as the beloved Toby passed away at the age of 23.

According to the zoo, the average life expectancy for a black bear is 20 years, so Toby certainly lived a full life. He had been suffering from a variety of age-related illnesses for quite some time, the zoo said, including arthritis of the spine and joint stiffness.

However, they said his condition began to worsen last month, including sporadic loss of the use of his hind legs, so the decision was made to humanely euthanize him.

“Letting go of our animal residents is always challenging, particularly with those so beloved by our team and community,” Zoo Director Gary Lunsford said. “Our hearts go out to those who provided his care over his many years.”

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Toby had been at Buttonwood Park Zoo since 2000, when he came from Clark’s Trading Post in New Hampshire. He was the last of the zoo’s black bears after Amy and Ursula both passed away in 2020 of age-related illnesses, the zoo said.

Toby was described as a “gentle giant” who “loved to be the center of attention.”

“He was a big ham – he always made us laugh at how he would lounge in the sun in the funniest positions or steal all the hay overnight to make himself a king-sized bed,” said Senior Zookeeper Kristy Kaeterle, who worked with Toby for over 20 years. “He was such a handsome guy. He was adored by all, and he will be sorely missed,”

Courtesy Buttonwood Park Zoo
Courtesy Buttonwood Park Zoo

While there are no immediate plans to bring in a new black bear, Lunsford said the zoo does hope to bring bears back at some point in the near future.

“We will take a little time to make some upgrades to the habitat before moving forward,” said Lunsford. “In the meantime, we will be exploring the best candidates for making Buttonwood Park Zoo their new home.”

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