Samson had an inauspicious beginning to life, orphaned and underweight, but the most dignified end for grizzly bear who spent his life in captivity.
His keepers at the Toronto Zoo said the 25-year-old bear woke up from hibernation this year with severe stiffness and pain in his hips and knees from worsening arthritis. The discomfort was so extreme, officials said, pain management medication seemed no longer a viable option.
Samson was given one last, special meal of his favourites: A feast of salmon, watermelon and berries.
The zoo’s veterinary team and keepers unanimously decided euthanizing Samson would save him from prolonged suffering. The big, old bear was surrounded by his caregivers when he died on April 10.
“Our hearts go out to all those who had the privilege of working with him during his many years at our Zoo,” the zoo announced on social media Thursday. “He will be missed dearly.”
Samson was about six months old when he arrived at the Toronto Zoo in 1998. He was about six months old after being found wandering, abandoned and malnourished, according to officials in Alaska.
By the following year, a female grizzly, Shintay, joined him at the. They spent the past 24 years together.
They were often photographed, and captured on video, playing and scampering about their enclosure.
Samson was a gentle giant.
“Despite his impressive size (just over 1000 pounds) he was an amazing and gentle bear, and his keepers were constantly impressed by his intelligence and motivation when training for new behaviours,” the zoo explained.
“He seemed to enjoy his one-on-one time with the Wildlife Care staff, which led to a high level of trust and a bond that made caring for him a privilege,” the zoo added.
The zoo said Samson had a close connection with his keepers and was familiar with being handled and receiving injections from his veterinary team.
“He voluntarily presented his hip and shoulder for his last anaesthetic injection from the veterinary team, just as he had practiced daily for most of his life,” the zoo said.
“While it is hard to say goodbye, there is comfort in knowing this voluntary participation means he experienced minimal stress or discomfort,” it added.
The facility’s Indigenous relations team arranged a ceremony with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to mark the passing of such a remarkable bear and spirit.
Medicines, songs and a pipe ceremony played out in front of those who knew and loved Samson. Samson’s remains were also there. He was given a cedar bath.
“The Knowledge Keepers shared during the ceremony that this is not a goodbye to Samson, but rather a temporary parting as we will see him on the other side,” officials explained.
It was a beautiful tribute to this beloved member of the zoo family, which shared a video from the ceremony.
“Please note, there are images of Samson, whose body and spirit were present, in the video,” the zoo advised. “This may be sensitive material for some.”