Andean bear Gritto recalled as a happy Zoo resident

Gritto Tree

Gritto, the 24-year-old Andean bear who loved peanut butter sandwiches, is being remembered as a happy Salisbury Zoo resident, who, despite his age, fathered Alba, the 9-month-old cub.

Gritto died last week, after exhibiting stroke-like symptoms, with weakness on his left side, on Oct. 12.

After being examined, medicated and carefully watched, the difficult decision was made to euthanize him.

“We examined him and we couldn’t find any physical reason,” explained Ralph Piland, zoo director.

“His vision had been impaired. He had cataracts that weren’t operable. We had been treating him for a seizure disorder for some time. The treatment appeared to be fairly successful in minimizing the number of seizures.

“He appeared to have had a stroke. He had left side weakness, like you would see in a human who has had a stroke. Given the consistent weakness on the left and his prior history of neurological issues, we felt pretty strongly it was a stroke.

“I think everyone on the staff felt we were doing the right thing by not having him suffer,” Piland said.

A necropsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death.

Gritto was born in 1991 at the San Diego Zoo, and was at the San Antonio Zoo before coming to Salisbury in 2003.

He first lived with Poopsie, who later died when she was 37, giving her the distinction of being the oldest Andean bear in captivity.  The two had no cubs.

Later, Gritto was paired with Chaska, now 6, who surprised the zoo staff when she gave birth to a tiny cub in January, delighting the community.

Gritto was separated from the mother and cub, and gained weight, since Chaska wasn’t there to steal some of his most tasty food, as was her habit.

Piland remembered Gritto for his love of swimming and habit of pacing before visitors, back and forth in front of the wire fence.

“He was a laid-back bear. He got along pretty well with Chaska. They tolerated each other. They slept in adjoining dens. He was a mellow bear,” Piland said.

Gritto knew the daily routine and cooperated well with keepers, taking his medicine in those irresistible peanut butter sandwiches, munching on shelled peanuts and happily enjoying honey as a treat.

A replacement for Gritto will depend on when Chaska “kicks Alba out of the nest,” Piland said.

When that happens, generally when the cub is between 1 and 2 years old, Alba will likely be sent to the San Diego Zoo.

Meantime, the cub, known for being “a little bit of a dickens,” as Piland characterized her, is energetic and entertaining.

“She doesn’t have a slow speed. She’s either asleep or running. She pulls at her mom’s hair. They play fight. She will try to sneak up on her mom. She has grown a fair bit and she’s eating well,” Piland said.

Although she won’t know Gritto, the staff is confident euthanizing him was the right decision.

“We were worried about him all the time and we asked ourselves, ‘What’s the right decision to make?’ You don’t ever feel it’s the perfect decision but you have to respect the dignity of the animal,” Piland reasoned.

“Gritto had a pretty good life. And, with Alba, his genes live on.”

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