Zoo News

Cameron Park Zoo is mourning the death of two of its senior citizens, Balou, the North American black bear and Shamfa, our eldest African lion.

Balou was confiscated by US Fish and Wildlife Department because he was being kept as a pet. In 1999, he was brought to Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. He came to live at Cameron Park Zoo in 2005. Balou’s age was estimated at 21 years. The average longevity for North American black bears is estimated between 21-33 years old.

Balou was a favorite among his keepers because of his easy-going personality. He was known to clack his jaws at zookeepers to request a treat and his keepers enjoyed spoiling him with extra love and attention. Balou had age related arthritis so zoo staff made him his very own bear bed. He often felt sluggish in the morning so in addition to supplements and medications, the zookeepers modified his morning training regime to help him stretch his joints and get him moving. Unfortunately, Balou developed kidney and heart disease, likely due to age, and his quality of life diminished to the point that the decision was made to humanely euthanize him.

Shamfa was born on December 14, 1998 at Sedgewick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas and came to Cameron Park Zoo in 2000. Shamfa was being treated for respiratory disease and age-related arthritis. At 21 years of age, she lived well beyond the typical life expectancy for African lions, which is 14-17 years.

Shamfa had 6 cubs over her lifetime at Cameron Park Zoo and she was an excellent mother. Shamfa was loved by her keepers for her sassy personality and her ability to learn quickly. She was fed a special carnivore senior diet, to help her maintain a healthy weight at her advanced age. Part of her unique care included a modified training regimen, supplements and medications for her ailments, and special temperature requirements, including a mister during the summer to help her stay cool. Last year, Shamfa was diagnosed with respiratory disease which ultimately ended up being cancer. In recent months, we had seen a decline in Shamfa’s interest in food and activity level despite medications, so she had been kept under close observation. Shamfa passed away peacefully in her sleep.

Balou and Shamfa were two of many senior citizens at Cameron Park Zoo. Each of these senior citizens at Cameron Park Zoo are special to our staff and our visitors, and each has a story to tell. As veterinary care and animal husbandry advances, geriatric care is becoming an increasing emphasis at the Zoo. Many of the animals have been at Cameron Park Zoo since it opened in 1993 and are approaching the end of their lifespans. Special care is taken with these aging animals. They have special diets and often have specific physical therapy, enrichment, and medical care to help keep them as healthy and comfortable as possible as they age. The veterinary and animal care staff performs frequent quality of life assessments, and each geriatric animal is evaluated as an individual. The animal’s health plan is adjusted often during the aging process and sometimes, when age related diseases progress, the best outcome for the individual is humane euthanasia, which was the case with Balou.

Our keeper staff averages more time with their animal family than with their own human families. Though the staff of Cameron Park Zoo understands as animals age they will eventually have to say goodbye, it is always difficult. The keepers and all of the staff here at Cameron Park Zoo grieve the loss of Balou and Shamfa, but we are comforted in knowing that they received the best of care and we are all honored to have known and loved them.