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Great Plains Zoo Mourns the Loss of Kenai the Brown Bear

June 7, 2017

Kenai, the Great Plains Zoo’s 23-year-old female Brown Bear, has died following a brief battle with an aggressive cancer, the Great Plains Zoo announced today. The Brown Bear was only six months old when she arrived at the Great Plains Zoo in 1994; she spent her life at the Zoo’s Brown Bear exhibit, most of it with her brother, Smokey, who passed away in 2012. 

“Kenai was a charismatic and intelligent animal and was a favorite among Zoo staff, as well as our visitors,” said Elizabeth A. Whealy, President & CEO of the Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History.  “We are grateful to the Zoo’s veterinary staff and zookeepers who gave Kenai the best possible care through her entire life, and made her final days comfortable.” 

The cancer diagnosis followed a biopsy of a mass on Kenai’s leg. The mass was not present during an annual exam conducted by the Zoo’s veterinarian six weeks ago. After monitoring the fast rate of growth of the tumor found during a recent visual inspection, Zoo staff explored a variety of treatment options with other veterinarians and surgeons from across the country. Due to the aggressive nature of the cancer and the size of Kenai’s nearly 600-pound body, an effective treatment option was not available. The decision was then made to humanely euthanize Kenai. 

“Our veterinary and animal care teams manage end-of-life care with the comfort of their patient as a top priority, much like hospice care for humans,” said Whealy. “Not only was our team of caretakers able to effectively manage Kenai’s pain, they made her last days fun and comfortable with some of her favorite treats and activities.” 

Kenai has been off exhibit since mid-April due to the construction of the new Brown Bear exhibit scheduled to open in spring 2018. As previously planned, the exhibit will be home to up to four Brown Bears. Two cubs, Juneau and Sitka, are currently being cared for by the Indianapolis Zoo until the Great Plains Zoo’s new exhibit is complete early next year. 

“It’s sad to think about opening the new Brown Bear exhibit next spring without Kenai, but we know our staff and visitors will fondly remember Kenai as they watch a new generation of Brown Bears enjoy a new home built with her in mind,” said Whealy.  


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The Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History is a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering a greater understanding of our natural world through education, conservation, recreation and discovery. The Great Plains Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – a leader in wildlife conservation. Less than 10% of animal institutions in the United States have met the high standards for AZA accreditation.

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