America’s Small Zoos Face Grim Future Amidst Shutdown

America’s Small Zoos Face Grim Future Amidst Shutdown

The zoo sits on the southeast coast of Massachusetts on the way to Cape Cod. It’s one of the oldest and most unique in the country, sitting only 7 acres in size.

“Everything from Asian elephants to small monkey species, otters, a lot of native species. A diverse animal population here that the community really loves,” said zoo director Keith Lovett of the animals.

It survives on city funds, fundraising, and like most other zoos, admission. Closing was, and still is, a tough financial hit. This is the time of year when Buttonwood makes the most money.

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Director Discusses Geriatric Care

Director Discusses Geriatric Care

At the Buttonwood Park Zoo we are dedicated to providing lifelong care for our animals.

As one of only 240 institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, BPZOO meets the highest animal care and welfare standards in the world. Considering the diversity of the animal population here, from freshwater and marine fish, to reptiles and birds, and the pygmy marmoset (the world’s smallest monkey) to our beloved Asian elephants, meeting these standards is a significant achievement.

Our dedicated animal care, veterinary, and curatorial staff diligently work to meet the husbandry, behavioral, welfare, and veterinary needs at all stages of an animal’s life – from our youngest to our most geriatric animals. In fact, geriatric animal care is an area that BPZOO dedicates many resources to and has had much success in.

Recently we told you about the difficult decision made to humanely euthanize one of our American black bears, Amy.  Amy, who was 21 at the time of her passing, had been suffering from incurable, advanced kidney disease. She had very recently stopped eating and was not exhibiting expected behavior, even for an animal of her advanced age.

Amy’s kidney disease was discovered this past November, during a routine wellness exam, where in-house and regional veterinary specialists performed a variety of tests, including radiographs, blood analysis, full body palpation, urinalysis, and abdominal ultrasounds. These exams were done to gauge the overall health of all three 21-year-old black bears, Amy, Ursula and Toby.  In addition to Amy’s kidney disease, we also discovered that Ursula had significant spinal degeneration and severe knee arthritis.

As we are dealing with the emotional loss of Amy, staff has been closely monitoring and treating Ursula.  Although there is nothing we can do to repair Ursula’s age-related spinal instability or severe arthritis, we are keeping her comfortable and active by incorporating various joint supplements, pain medications, steroids, as well as habitat modifications to accommodate some of her mobility challenges.

Black bears are not the only geriatric animals at the Zoo.  BPZOO closed for a complete renovation in the late 90’s and today, twenty years later, several of the animals that celebrated the reopening are still with us.

In addition to our remaining black bears, Ursula and Toby, BPZOO is home to 20 and 21-year-old bobcats Sprite and Salsa, and our 20-year-old male Canada lynx Calgary – who is recognized as the oldest of his species in the country.  We also care for some of the oldest harbor seals and elephants in the country.  Yellow, our 38-year-old female harbor seal and our beloved Asian elephants, Emily and Ruth, are 55 and 61 years of age respectively. These animals are thriving in our care, outliving their expected life spans in the wild.

All our geriatric animals are benefitting from specialized care developed by our animal care and on-site veterinary staff and that care will continue, uninterrupted by the current global pandemic.

As for Ursula – on a daily basis, animal care and veterinary staff are monitoring her health and making adjustments to her treatments as needed.  Some days Ursula appears happy and energetic, while other days she prefers to spend extended time in her comfortable indoor dens. We know that in the near future we will need to make the difficult, but humane decision to euthanize Ursula.

Although not related, Amy and Ursula were both orphaned cubs discovered in the wild in the spring of 1999 and found a home here at BPZOO.  These two bears, along with our male Toby, have lived together for over twenty years.  When the day comes soon for staff to make the gut-wrenching decision to say goodbye to Ursula, we will take comfort in knowing that we have provided excellent life-long care for her and the other amazing animals at BPZOO.

The dedication we have to our work is what helps BPZOO staff get through these tough times – but knowing that these animals positively impacted millions of Zoo guests helps us too.  Over the last 20 or so years Amy, Ursula, and Toby have inspired our community to appreciate bears, learn how to protect bear habitats in the wild, and personally connect with nature.  I want to thank the amazing staff for all that they have done and will do, as well as thank our wonderful community for the endless support they’ve shown for BPZOO.

We look forward to the time we can welcome you back and continue to share these wonderful animals with you in person.



Keith Lovett
Director of Zoological Services
Buttonwood Park Zoo

Mourning an Iconic Zoo Resident

Mourning an Iconic Zoo Resident

The Buttonwood Park Zoo is sad to announce the passing of one of our most iconic animals – a 21-year old black bear named Amy. Diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in November of 2019, veterinary staff had been managing her condition with medical therapy and a specialized diet. Over the last week staff became increasingly concerned when she stopped eating and it became apparent that she was no longer responding to treatment. The Zoo’s care team made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her. A necropsy was performed and confirmed chronic, end-stage kidney disease.

“One of the most challenging parts of working in a Zoo is the end of life decisions we need to make with our animals,” said BPZOO Director, Keith Lovett.  “We approach many aspects of these decisions on a scientific level, but at the end of the day we have strong emotional connections with these animals and having to say goodbye is incredibly difficult.”

Amy is one of three black bears that came to live at BPZOO in 2000. After being orphaned in West Virginia, she was sent to the Staten Island Zoo in New York, before finding a home here in New Bedford with fellow black bears, Ursula and Toby.

Amy’s long time keepers remember a sweet, gentle bear. She was often referred to as their “little princess” because of her daintiness. Amy was smaller than Ursula and Toby; quieter and on the shyer side.

Kristy Kaeterle, BPZOO’s Senior Zoo Keeper, remembers Amy’s gentleness. “She would gently take her favorite treats – like blackberries, jelly and honey – even in the fall, when the bears are extra hungry. And when she painted, she would make the most perfect little paw prints.”

She also remembers her as calm and peaceful, often finding her curled up with one of the other bears in the morning – the little princess with the calm and peaceful spirit.

From herbal supplements for joint health, to diet modifications and intestinal protectants, BPZOO vet staff goes to great lengths to keep our large geriatric population healthy. In addition to regular wellness screenings that include bloodwork, vaccines and whole body radiographs, keeper staff modify training, enrichment opportunities and even an animal’s habitat to ensure they remain active and comfortable in their golden years.

“Modern zoos are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care at every stage of an animal’s life.  Geriatric care is part of what we do here at the Zoo and we are focused on ensuring the comfort and welfare of all of our animals,” said Lovett.

American black bears are one of eight species of bears found around the world. Once common across North America, they are now present in 40 U.S. states, 12 provinces and territories of Canada, and 6 states of northern Mexico. Loss of habitat and unregulated hunting/persecution resulted in extirpation of black bears across large portions of their range by the early 1900s. While loss of forest cover has eliminated black bears from many areas, their numbers are increasing. Climate change seems to have enabled black bears to range farther north. American black bears are the smallest of the three bear species in North America, ranging from 200 – 600 pounds, with males being significantly larger. Average life expectancy for American black bears is 20 years.