Mourning the loss of Shardik
Every spring for the last three years, the folks at the B.C. Wildlife Park have wondered if this was the year — the one when Shardik would not emerge from his winter den.
The 37-year-old grizzly emerged earlier this month but it was obvious the years of suffering from arthritis had finally taken the ultimate toll, said park animal-care supervisor Paul Williams.
Shardik, like his sister Sheba before him, lay down in a favourite space in his one-acre den and didn’t get up.
Three days later, it was obvious he couldn’t get up, that the arthritis had robbed the animal that came to the park back in 1979 of any quality of life — and Shardik was euthanized, as was Sheba two years ago.
The bears were found near Bella Coola back in the mid-1970s.
Their mother had become a garbage bear and was killed; the cubs started to become nuisances as well, Williams said, but were trapped and sent to the University of British Columbia, where noted researcher Tony Hamilton used them for studies into the diets of grizzlies.
From there, they came to Kamloops.
Williams has no idea where the names came from — he’s been at the park for 17 years and Shardik and Sheba were already veterans of the facility when he was hired — but speculated Shardik might have gotten his name from a book by Richard Adams about a grizzly with the same name.
Shardik’s arthritis showed up about a dozen years ago and was treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
Sheba developed the condition about six years ago, but it progressed rapidly, Williams said, leading to her inability to move and the decision to euthanize.
Shardik had been receiving regular anti-inflammatories as well and the disease progressed slowly.
“Last year, he was mobile enough, slow, but he could use the space he has, play with his toys,” Williams said.
“This year, he was especially slow coming out of denning and, just like Sheba, he lied down one day and it was obvious he was too sore to get up, so we knew he had no quality of life.
“It’s been hard because he’s been here so long. He was very ancient.”
Grizzlies in zoos tend to live about 30 years, Williams said, while their counterparts in the wild tend to have 25-year life spans.
There are no plans to seek out another grizzly — for several reasons.
Few zoos breed the animals, Williams said, because it’s not an easy process.
A separate cubbing pen is required, as well as an enclosure for the newborns and mom, all of which take up space and are costly.
More importantly, however, is there are already two grizzly cubs at the park — who likely wouldn’t welcome a new member to their space.
K’nute and Dawson were born in January or February of 2011 and, since joining the park last summer, have become part of the animal family.
“They’re little delinquents,” Williams said. “They’re into everything, very active.”
There are also three black bears at the park, along with more than 250 others of 65 species, all welcoming the spring weather now and ready for another season of engaging visitors.