Cincinnati Zoo Mourns Loss of Beloved Polar Bear “Little One”

Posted March 27, 2021

CINCINNATI (March 27, 2021) – Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s male polar bear “Little One”, was humanely euthanized earlier today due to renal failure and a rapid decline in his health and quality of life.  At 31 years old, he was the second oldest male in the U.S. Zoo population. He was a geriatric bear with chronic medical conditions that were being managed by his animal care and veterinary teams.

            “Over my 30 plus year career, I’ve had the privilege of caring for 17 polar bears in two zoos. All of them have been amazing animals to care for,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s head bear keeper Lisa Vollmer. “Saying goodbye is always hard, and it was especially hard with Little One. He was one of the most easy going bears I’ve ever worked with and had a great disposition. His passing leaves a huge hole in hearts of all of us who cared for him.  Rest in peace Little One. We love you and you will be missed.”

The median life expectancy for a male polar bear is 21. Little One’s longevity can be attributed to the excellent care he received.  The bear team provided daily enrichment, a nutritious diet specifically designed for a geriatric bear, and a comfortable environment inside and out.

“He was such a great bear.  Very easygoing.  The cutest thing about him was how he did those leisurely armpit scratches,”  said Cincinnati Zoo bear keeper Lisa Potter. (See Lisa’s video of slow scratches.)

            Little One was born at the Cleveland Zoo to parents Snowball and Nauyat on December 13, 1989, and came to Cincinnati in 2007. Despite being matched with several females over the years, he never sired offspring. He did, however, inspire millions of Zoo visitors to care about his species.

The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to partner with Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center to help spearhead community efforts to reduce carbon dioxide and to educate visitors about global warming and wildlife conservation. Polar bears live in remote areas making them difficult and expensive to study. Monitoring and surveying them is challenging.  Therefore, scientists don’t have solid figures on the total number of polar bears worldwide. The most recent IUCN report estimates that there are 26,000 polar bears left in the wild and lists it as a vulnerable species, citing loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change as its most serious threat.

Polar bears are one of four Signature Projects at the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). Its scientists have established methodologies for semen collection and cryopreservation and performed the world’s first polar bear artificial insemination (AI) in 2012. Wild polar bears live in remote and harsh conditions, which makes them difficult to study. By monitoring zoo bears, scientists can learn more about the unique physiology and behavior of this species, information that can then be applied to wild polar bear conservation efforts.

Most people will never see a polar bear in the wild, but approximately 181 million people visit zoos each year. Zoo polar bears act as Arctic ambassadors for their wild cousins, helping to communicate the messages of conservation and climate change to broad audiences while providing opportunities for research not possible with wild bears.