According to the Buttonwood Park Zoo, BPZ is mourning the loss of 21-year-old, American black bear, Ursula, who passed away peacefully on Monday, May 25. She was discovered by one of her keepers in the early afternoon lying comfortably in her den off exhibit.

A necropsy was performed and revealed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood resulting in mild symptoms such as shortness of breath to abnormal heart rhythms or even sudden death.

Ursula was also dealing with several age-related conditions, including significant spinal degeneration and severe knee arthritis, which was discovered this fall during a routine wellness exam. She had been responding well to treatments and zookeepers had modified her habitat to make it easier for her to get around and lounge in some of her favorite sunny spots.

Kristy Kaeterle is BPZOO’s Senior Zookeeper and cared for Ursula for 20 years. She described Ursula as the Zoo’s true “real” bear.

“Ursula was the boss and everyone knew it. She may have only been half the size of Toby, but one wrong glance from her could send him running!”

Buttonwood Park Zoo

Ursula was curious, playful, and certainly the most fearless of all three bears but she also had a soft side for Amy and Toby - it was common to find all three bears or some combination of them, cuddled up in a big bear ball.

Ursula was also famous for giving her keepers a laugh first thing in the morning. She had a tendency to lounge in some of the most untraditional positions - her favorite was laying on her back with her hind legs straight up against her den wall!

While she may have been best known for her sassy side, Ursula also had a sweet side - and a sweet tooth; she loved dried cranberries and honey as treats.

Ursula was one of three black bears that came to live at BPZOO in 2000. After being orphaned in West Virginia, she found a home here in New Bedford with fellow black bears, Amy and Toby. Amy was humanely euthanized in early April of this year after her health steadily declined due to end-stage kidney disease.

BPZOO staff is devastated by the loss of Ursula but finds solace in the fact that true to her nature, she was able to go in her own way, on her own time. “We take comfort in knowing that we have provided excellent life-long care for Ursula. She will be sincerely missed.”

Buttonwood Park Zoo will reopen on Wednesday, June 3 after a 12-week closure due to COVID-19.

Visiting the bears with my nephews was one of my favorite parts of Buttonwood Park Zoo. I couldn't tell you which bear was Ursula just by looking at them, but I will certainly miss seeing the "three little bears" in their enclosure. This news is especially hard after the loss of Amy so recently. Toby is still with Buttonwood Park Zoo and we look forward to visiting him soon.

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