West Island mourns zoo’s friendly, furry icons

Anthony Abbondanza
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What’s next for the Ecomuseum Zoo as it mourns the loss of black bears Suzie and Marge

Suzie, Marge, and Homer were a lot different than the average black bear accustomed to conditions of the wild. At the time of their deaths, Suzie and Marge were roughly 2 to 3 times older than the average bear –a feat which could be attributed to living conditions predetermined by zoo officials.

Following the deaths of beloved black bears Suzie and her daughter Marge in a span of six days in late November, early December due to old age-related ailments, the Ecomuseum Zoo is having a difficult time replacing the somber void that carries over the West Island institution.

While not actively seeking new bears, the zoo will always shelter animals either in need of rehab, or have been abandoned –a scenario bears typically face in spring after the end of the hibernation period, said David Rodrigue, executive director of the Ecomuseum Zoo.

Given the magnitude of the black bears influence on staff and locals, the Ste. Anne de Bellevue zoo’s director emphasized replacing Suzie, 28, and Marge, 22, won’t be a small feat.

“It’s been very hard for us. It’s definitely a mourning time here. While people get very attached to them, people often overlook how they get attached to humans as well,” said Rodrigue.

The beloved bears were unfortunately met with old age-related ailments. In Suzie’s case, the zoo’s team of veterinarians observed her significant muscle loss, which was deteriorating at an alarming rate over recent months, whereas Marge experienced a mobility problem due to osteoarthritis over the years.

Given the irreparable nature of the bears’ ailments, and the upcoming hibernation period where the administration of medicine isn’t feasible, the zoo decided it best to euthanize the bears – an unfortunate task that fell upon the zoo’s chief veterinarian, Sarah-Annie Guenette.

The veterinarian had spent countless hours, working with the bears, monitoring their issues, some of which she said began nearly eight years ago.

“Until recently, the medical treatments administered were sufficient to ensure their comfort and well-being, but we came to a point where even the highest doses were not enough to avoid important undue suffering,” said Guenette.

Although euthanizing the zoo’s animals is just one among a long list of duties Guenette juggles, putting down Suzie (Nov. 27), Marge (Dec. 2) and her brother Homer, who was euthanized on Oct. 24, in a short period of time may have been one of the more difficult moments in her 10-year career as a veterinarian.

“It’s always very difficult. It’s like I was euthanizing my own cat or dog. It’s a very emotional moment,” she said.

That moment is one the veterinarian knows all too well, yet she maintained is necessary as “the vet is always in this situation; always the emotional support for everyone involved.”

The three black bears, as well as their elder male statesman named Bear who died five years ago for similarly-related ailments, were largely considered icons at the zoo, astounding thousands of visitors with their shear friendly and playful nature. A true elder of the zoo, Suzie arrived at the Ecomuseum Zoo in 1985 as an orphan, giving birth to Homer and Marge six years later.

“They shared a bond quite similar to what human’s experience. It was just amazing to see,” said Rodrigue.

Suzie, Marge, and Homer were a lot different than the average black bear accustomed to conditions of the wild. At the time of their deaths, Suzie and Marge were roughly 2 to 3 times older than the average bear –a feat which could be attributed to living conditions predetermined by zoo officials.

Under natural conditions, bears must deal with the daily stress associated with hunting and predation, as well as the lack of medical attention for easily-remedied diseases.

On the other hand, bears like Suzie, Marge and Homer are constantly under the watchful eye –and in some cases a microscope –of a team of zoo veterinarians, their every need tended.

“The food we provide has no parasites; there is no threat of predation. We’re bringing them up in a very good, safe environment, which makes them live longer under human care,” said Rodrigue.

Open to the public since 1988, the non-profit organization is the only exterior zoo on the island of Montreal, offering visitors a glimpse into the lives of more than 115 species of animals native to the St. Lawrence Valley. The Ste. Anne de Bellevue zoo’s mission is centered on education, research, and applied conservation. For more information, visit www.ecomuseum.ca.

@AAbbondanza1

Organizations: Ecomuseum Zoo

Geographic location: West Island, Island of Montreal, Lawrence Valley

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