Mourning the Loss of Beloved Atlantic Harbor Seal

Mourning the Loss of Beloved Atlantic Harbor Seal

BPZOO Mourns the Loss of Beloved Atlantic Harbor Seal

New Bedford, Massachusetts: Buttonwood Park Zoo is mourning the loss of Yellow, a female Atlantic harbor seal, who came to BPZOO after being rescued from a Cape Cod beach in 1983. One of BPZOO’s most beloved and iconic animals, Yellow exceeded life expectancy for an Atlantic harbor seal, as she was less than a week from her 40th birthday.

Yellow, as one of BPZOO’s oldest residents, and the oldest female Atlantic harbor seal in an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was under careful monitoring and care for many age-related illnesses. Recently, animal care staff noticed a reduction in her appetite, and increasing troublesome neurological signs, such as lethargy, decreased mobility, and, finally, seizures.

After a variety of diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, a whole-body CT scan and infectious disease testing it became clear that her condition was continuing to deteriorate.  Due to advanced age, poor prognosis, and a major decline in her quality of life, Zoo leadership, animal care, and veterinary teams made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her. She passed away surrounded by her animal care team. A necropsy has been performed and biopsies were submitted with results pending.

“It was an incredibly difficult decision; one that we did not come to lightly,” said BPZOO’s Director, Gary Lunsford. “Yellow was a wonderful ambassador for her species and beloved by so many. We know her loss will be profoundly felt by her extensive animal care team as well as the many volunteers and guests who had the pleasure of interacting with her over the last 40 years.”

Known for being very sweet, and a little sassy, Yellow thrived under the expert care at BPZOO. Kristy Kaeterle and her twin sister Kerry Silvia cared for Yellow for more than two decades.

“There are so many things that we loved about her and will miss forever – like her impatient little snorts when we were taking too long with the fish that she loved so much. She also had impeccable timing, always knocking the pool brush out of our hands at just the right moment bringing a laugh from us, every time.”

It wasn’t just animal care staff that noticed her silly behavior – guests also commented on Yellow’s quirky habit of napping at the bottom of her pool.

“Guests would constantly ask us ‘What is she doing?’ – and we would assure them that she was just taking a little nap!”

Yellow gave birth to Blue, her sole living offspring in 2003 and together they built strong relationships with their caretakers.  These strong connections allowed for hands-on vet exams and close monitoring of their health, contributing to her longevity. Yellow knew more than 25 trained behaviors, including stationing on a scale, allowing keepers to brush her teeth, place drops in her eyes and even presenting herself for x-rays, vaccines, and blood draws.

One of the most beautiful ways this relationship was showcased was through Yellow’s unique artwork, featured yearly in BPZOO’s annual Art Gone Wild Auction as well Zoolala.

“If you have a seal flipper print in the shape of a flower – cherish it. It was her specialty. She taught us many things over the years, but one of the most important lessons we learned was the importance of trust in a friendship,” said Kaeterle and Silvia.

Yellow will be deeply missed.

Keeper Kyler with Yellow the Harbor Seal

A Gift That Lasts All Year! 

BPZOO Memberships make a perfect gift for the animal lover in your life.

Bear’s Den is Open

Bear’s Den is Open


Got a hankering for a warm, soft pretzel, a bag of hot, buttered popcorn, or maybe a delicious ice cream treat?

BPZOO’s Bear’s Den Café has got you covered!


With the gorgeous woodland mural and life-sized stuffed bear, the Bear’s Den Café, operated by the Buttonwood Park Zoological Society, features ready-made sandwiches and salads from On the Go Catering, as well as a variety of snacks to take along on your zoo adventures.

The Bear’s Den Café is open from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm daily, with indoor seating available. Snacks and drinks can also be purchased in the Northwood’s Gift Store as well as from the two vending machines located outside the Wildlife Education Center.

DreamNight at BPZOO

DreamNight at the Zoo

You are cordially invited to join us for an unforgettable evening of superhero fun at the Buttonwood Park Zoo’s DreamNight event on Friday, June 2 from 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm.

In Partnership with

This year’s theme is “Superheroes Unite!” and we are excited to host an evening of entertainment, education, and excitement for families of children with disabilities and chronic healthcare needs. You’ll get to see your favorite superheroes come to life and participate in a range of fun activities including face painting, interactive exhibits, and live animal encounters.

DreamNight is a special event designed for families of children with special needs to enjoy the zoo in a supportive and inclusive environment. We believe that every child deserves a chance to experience the joy and wonder of the animal kingdom, and we are honored to provide a night of fun and magic.

Thank you to our sponsors!

A Gift That Lasts All Year! 

BPZOO Memberships make a perfect gift for the animal lover in your life.

Red, White and Brew at the Zoo

Red, White and Brew at the Zoo

If you LOVE craft brews and the great outdoors, grab your friends and enjoy a wild night at the Zoo!

Ticket purchase provides you with zoo admission, your own souvenir sampling glass, unlimited beer/wine samples, animal encounters, and great live entertainment! Food will be available for purchase during the event.This is a 21+ event, so have your ID ready at the gate! Doors open at 6:00 pm.

VIP Admission Perks!

  • A unique sampling glass
  • $10 voucher for food
  • Early Entrance to Brew – 5:00 pm!
  • VIP Only Samples

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the continued growth of the Buttonwood Park Zoo’s educational programs, ensuring that South Coast families will always have a way to experience nature close to home.

Want your brewery, winery, or food truck to join in on the fun? Contact Kris at to learn more on how to register your business!

$50 per person 

$25 for a Designated Driver*

*Please note, this ticket does NOT include beer & wine tasting.

$85 per person 

$35 for a Designated Driver*

*Please note, this ticket does NOT include beer & wine tasting.


Jacquelyn Legendre Music


Gonzalez Food Truck


Thank You to Our Sponsors

BPZOO Mourns the Loss of Beloved Black Bear

BPZOO Mourns the Loss of Beloved Black Bear

Zoo Says Goodbye to Toby

The Buttonwood Park Zoo said goodbye to Toby, a 23-year-old black bear and one of BPZOO’s most iconic animals.

A team of veterinary and animal care staff at BPZOO had been managing a variety of Toby’s age-related illnesses for quite some time, including spondylosis (arthritis of the spine) and ankylosis (joint stiffness). Over the course of the last two years, Toby had responded well to treatment and keeper staff had been able to modify training, enrichment opportunities and his habitat to help ensure he was able to remain active and comfortable.

Late August 2022, the staff became increasingly concerned when Toby’s condition and quality of life began to decline, exhibiting sporadic loss of the use of his hind legs. It was at this point, with no further options for treatment and his condition worsening, that the Zoo’s animal care and veterinary team made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize him.

“Letting go of our animal residents is always challenging, particularly with those so beloved by our team and community,” said BPZOO Director, Gary Lunsford. “Our hearts go out to those who provided his care over his many years.”

Toby is the last of the three black bears that came to live at BPZOO in 2000. Hailing originally from Clark’s Trading Post in New Hampshire, he resided with fellow black bears, Amy and Ursula, who both passed away in 2020 of age-related illnesses.

Toby’s caretakers describe him as a gentle giant who loved all food – except broccoli and zucchini – and one who loved to be the center of attention.

Kristy Kaeterle, BPZOO’s Senior Zookeeper, worked with Toby for over 20 years.

“He was a big ham – he always made us laugh at how he would lounge in the sun in the funniest positions or steal all the hay overnight to make himself a king-sized bed.”

The largest of the three black bears, Toby could easily toss a large log with just one paw, but his gentle nature endeared him to all those who knew him.

“He was such a handsome guy. He was adored by all, and he will be sorely missed,” said Kaeterle.

While there is no replacing Toby, Ursula, or Amy, BPZOO is hoping to continue to care for black bears in the coming years.

“We will take a little time to make some upgrades to the habitat before moving forward,” said Lunsford. “In the meantime, we will be exploring the best candidates for making Buttonwood Park Zoo their new home.”

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.

BPZOO Welcomes New Director

BPZOO Welcomes New Director

Buttonwood Park Zoo Welcomes New Zoo Director

The Buttonwood Park Zoo is proud to announce Gary Lunsford as the Director of Zoological Services for the City of New Bedford. Lunsford’s 27-year zoo career spans across five institutions and two countries. He comes to BPZOO from the Milwaukee County Zoo where he served as Director of Animal Management & Health before accepting the role in New Bedford.

“I am thrilled to join the Buttonwood Park Zoo and the City of New Bedford as the Director of Zoological Services,” said Lunsford. “I am excited to move forward with the redevelopment of the Zoo and working towards the Master Plan coming to fruition.”

Lunsford started his zoo career in 1995 in the Aquatics facilities of the Oklahoma Zoo & Botanical Garden. He later relocated to the Tulsa Zoo & Living Museum where he served as Zookeeper, Area Supervisor, Curator and Zoo Registrar. He then became a part of the Zoo leadership team in Winnipeg, Manitoba where he served as Head of Animal Care, Director of Zoological Operations and Senior Director of Animal Care and Conservation for the Assiniboine Park Conservancy. During his time in Winnipeg, the Zoo team achieved their first accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), as well as commissioning of the $90 million Journey to Churchill capital project.

“We are thrilled to have Gary onboard and to have him lead BPZOO into the next phase of redevelopment,” says Sarah Henry, Executive Director of the Buttonwood Park Zoological Society. “He is extremely passionate about conservation projects and will ensure the Zoo remains at the forefront of location conservation efforts while building on the support we provide to global projects.”

In addition to his work within the accredited zoo community, Lunsford currently serves the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an accrediting body dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums, as a zoo accreditation inspector, as well as a member of the Bear Taxon Advisory Group, the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan® program and the Annual Conference Program Committee.

Having spent many years at institutions that are more than twice the size of BPZOO, Lunsford says that what BPZOO lacks in acreage, it makes up for in charisma and charm.

“One of the things that struck me the most about this Zoo was the beautiful city around it, that clearly loves and supports the Zoo. BPZOO provides an important service to New Bedford and the surrounding communities,” Lunsford went on to say. “It is important that we continue to meet the needs of the community, where they are, by expanding and enhancing our various program offerings.”

Although picking a favorite species is never an easy task for someone who has spent almost three decades caring for so many of them, Lunsford admits to having a soft spot for all aquatic species and marine mammals, with a particular passion for turtles and polar bears.