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Changes in store for North Carolina Zoo's Polar Bear Exhibit

Posted on 02/26/09

ASHEBORO-One polar bear has been taken off display but another is on the way at the North Carolina Zoo.

Wilhelm, the N.C. Zoo's lone polar bear for the past two years, has been taken off view while undergoing treatments for an infection that cannot be administered while he has access to the exhibit pool. No timetable for his return has been set while Wilhelm remains under constant care by keepers and veterinarians.

Meanwhile, Aquila, a male polar bear on loan from the N.C. Zoo to the Cleveland Zoo, will be returning to Asheboro after an absence of more than six years. Zoo officials say 16-year-old Aquila could be on exhibit by early April if the transfer from Cleveland goes smoothly.

Wilhelm was one of six polar bears confiscated in November 2002 by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) from a circus traveling in Puerto Rico. A USFWS investigation had uncovered alleged violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which resulted in the bears' confiscation.

Wilhelm, age 24, and a second bear, Masha, were given a new home at the N.C. Zoo while the other bears went to zoos in Tacoma, WA, and Detroit. To make room for the two confiscated bears at the N.C. Zoo, Aquila was transferred first to the Louisville Zoo and later to Cleveland. Masha died in June 2007 from a combination of internal problems related to the inadequate care provided during his years in the circus.

Wilhelm, who also suffers from arthritis and other physical ailments related to age as well as his circus years, has been under treatment for a variety of problems over the past few months. Zoo veterinarians and animal staff this week decided that Wilhelm's recent development of a skin infection requires more frequent medical care than can be provided while he is on exhibit. But they look forward to the return of Aquila in the coming weeks.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary; Beverly Eaves Perdue, Governor.

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