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Contact(s):Susan Altrui

Thursday, January 25, 2007


LITTLE ROCK (January 25, 2007) – The Little Rock Zoo is sad to report the loss of Nocona, a sloth bear living at the Zoo since 1994 and mother of four cubs born to the Zoo.

Nocona will be fondly remembered by zoo staff for her playful personality and ability to suck Gatorade from a plastic bottle. She will also be remembered as the mother of two sets of sloth bear cubs, Tasha and Thor, born in December of 2004, and the most recent birth of two sloth bears, yet to be named, born last December.

Nocona was euthanized Tuesday after fluid samples from her abdomen showed malignant cells. A preliminary necropsy of the bear completed late Wednesday afternoon showed large tumors throughout the abdomen and lung area. Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Marilynn Baeyens, said she suspects the cancer started in the bear’s liver and spread. .
Zookeepers say Nocona started spending time away from the cubs starting Sunday, January 14, a behavior not considered normal for new sloth bear mothers. By Wednesday Nocona had completely separated herself from the cubs and was not eating. Zoo staff immediately pulled the cubs from their den and began hand-feeding them with bottled milk. At the time, the three-week-old cubs weighed-in less than two-and-a-half pounds, a weight considered to be dangerously lower than their normal expected weight of 3-and-a-half pounds.

Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Marilynn Baeyens, kept close watch over Nocona and the cubs and determined from a blood test and medical examination that Nocona had a high white blood cell count and yellowing skin. Nocona was given fluids and antibiotics Thursday and Friday of last week and was sedated Tuesday of this week for another medical examination.

While examining the bear, Dr. Baeyens discovered fluid in Nocona’s stomach and extracted some of the fluid for testing. The fluid contained malignant cells indicative of cancer. It was then decided to euthanize the bear.

Dr. Baeyens is happy to report that the new cubs are thriving and have gained weight since bottle-feeding. The cubs will continue to be bottle-fed five times a day by Zoo staff until they are old enough to eat food from a bowl on their own. Debbie Thompson, curator for carnivores, says the cubs will continue to stay at the Little Rock Zoo as they grow.

“This is a true testimony of the excellent care given to animals at the Little Rock Zoo by Zoo staff. Staff observed a behavior that wasn’t normal and acted promptly to save the lives of the two cubs and care for Nocona as much as possible until her death,” said zoo director Mike Blakely.

The Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats. For more information, visit


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