NC Zoo’s first grizzly bear, Yepani, euthanized due to debilitating disease

North Carolina news

Yepani (Photo credit: Valerie Abbott/North Carolina Zoo)

ASHEBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — Yepani, the North Carolina Zoo’s first grizzly bear, was humanely euthanized on Wednesday due to a debilitating disease, Zoo officials announced Thursday morning.

Yepani arrived at the Zoo nearly 25 years ago in November 1994 from the Woodland Park Zoo in Oregon, according to a press release. Yepani was a “nuisance bear” from Yellowstone National Park. Another nuisance bear, Tommo, also came to the NC Zoo just a few months later.

Yepani and Tommo were considered nuisance bears because they had lost their fear of humans and associated people with food. According to the release, bears can become a nuisance when people don’t properly secure their food while in bear territories in the wildnerness. Bears then become used to finding food near humans and can pose a threat to people in outdoor recreation areas.

Yepani was considered a nuisance bear because he began stealing coolers and backpacks from campsites in Yellowstone.

Nuisance bears typically end up being euthanized, but a zoo in Oregon was able to provide a home for Yepani. To learn how to curb creating nuisance bears, visit

According to the press release, male grizzlies generally live around 22 years in the wild and can weigh 400-700 pounds. Yepani weighed 400 pounds and lived for an estimated 28 years.

“Yepani was smaller than Tommo but was definitely mightier. Because of his smaller size, the staff gave him nicknames including ‘Little Bear,’ ‘Teacup Bear’ and ‘Rollie Pollie.’ He loved to roll in fresh mulch and other natural materials laid out in his habitat,” said Alexis Rowe, one of his zookeepers.

The name Yepani means “Autumn” in the Native American Shoshone dialect because of the time of year he arrived at the Zoo, the release said.

“Yepani started experiencing clinical symptoms of intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) late last week,” said director of animal health Dr. Jb Minter. “Intervertebral disk disease, often referred to as a herniated, slipped or ruptured disk is commonly seen in some of our domestic pets. The rapid progression of this disease severely diminished his quality of life, and the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Yepani was made Wednesday morning. A necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed this afternoon confirming the suspicion of IVDD.”

Animal management supervisor Chris Lasher said Yepani was able to connect with both guests and the staff over the years.

“He participated in his own care and was usually the first to learn new tasks the keepers asked of him,” he said. “Over the years he allowed keepers to brush his teeth, listen to his heart, give him vaccines and take his blood because of the strong relationships with his keepers.”

The NC Zoo’s other bear, Tommo, is around 29 years old and weighs about 650 pounds, according to officials.

“Grizzly bears are such an iconic North American species,” said Pat Simmons, director of the Zoo. “Yepani was a wonderful, and important, ambassador for the plight of bears in the wild and will not be forgotten.”

“I count myself privileged to have been part of his life, and I of his, for the last 25 years,” added Lasher.

Zoo guests can continue to see Tommo in his habitat.

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