Grizzly bear at B.C. Wildlife Park dies at age 37

He educated and entertained three generations of Kamloops residents, but old age and ill health finally took their toll on Shardik the bear.

On Tuesday, B.C. Wildlife Park officials announced the death of the elderly grizzly, saying the animal was euthanized days earlier because they had simply run out of options for getting the 37-year-old bruin mobile again after winter's hibernation.

"There just was no further treatment we could do for him," said Paul Williams, animal care supervisor.

"He was unable to stand and was in pain even though he was on anti-inflammatory medication. It wasn't a good quality of life."

For 10 years, Shardik suffered from increasingly debilitating arthritis.

The disease progressed so much in his final years that he had become a mere shadow of his former self; the powerful and alert bear that once roamed the park's grizzly enclosure.

This spring was his worst to date.

"It was sad to see. You could tell he was not well," said Dori-Lynn McRae, who took her children to the park last week.

"He just looked so ill. I mean, he hasn't gotten up in years, but he looked even more ragged, not himself. . . . I said to my fiancÉ, 'They really need to put him down; that's no life at all.'"

McRae grew up in Kamloops and like many longtime residents she remembers several visits to see Shardik and his sister, Sheba.

The bears arrived at the park in 1979 after having spent most of their first four years as test subjects for a UBC biologist studying grizzly diets. He acquired them near Bella Coola after conservation officers shot their mother.

As young grizzlies, Shardik and Sheba, were main attractions at B.C. Wildlife Park. The burly siblings would romp in their outdoor enclosure, feasting on treats of fresh grapes (their favourite snack) or playfully boxing each other in the pond as visitors delighted in the spectacle.

"They were icons at the park for many years," said Williams.

But both bears developed arthritis about a decade ago and with each passing year their health became worse. Sheba's disease progressed faster and she was euthanized two years ago at the age of 35 because she could no longer move. In human years, she was the equivalent of a 90-year-old.

It was the same scenario for Shardik.

He hadn't been active for months but up until this spring the elderly animal could at least walk around his enclosure.

He was still eating, which was a good sign, but he would lie down for days at a time, seemingly unable to muster the strength to get up.

"I'm glad they did it," said McRae, after she learned the bear was put down.

McRae said it was disturbing to see Shardik last week. On the day her family visited the park, the big bear was lying in his own feces.

"He did not look good and he looked like he was suffering. I didn't want to see him go but at the same time it was too sad to see him in that position," she said.

There will not be a public service for Shardik. The bear was solemnly buried in a plot at the park next to his sister.

His presence will be missed, said Williams. His demise ends a long, long era for park.

But Shardik's passing also makes way for a new era. Last summer, the park welcomed two young grizzlies, Knute and Dawson.

Shardik's and Sheba's enclosure is now theirs in which to romp and delight succeeding generations of park visitors.

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