ASHEBORO, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Zoo announced the death of one of its polar bears Thursday.
According to the zoo, Payton, who was brought to the zoo in 2021, was being transferred to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky as part of a polar bear breeding partnership. After the care team left the North Carolina Zoo with the 1,000-pound polar bear, they continued routine checks throughout the trip. On the second check, less than two hours away from the zoo, the care team found Payton unresponsive. He was taken to a nearby large animal veterinarian, who confirmed that Payton had died.
Zoo officials said Payton was then taken back to the NC Zoo for a necropsy (animal autopsy).
"The necropsy indicated some evidence of cardiac disease, a tumor on his adrenal gland as well as some moderate osteoarthritis in keeping with his advanced age. Tissue samples will be sent to outside laboratories for further testing to help determine the cause of his death," Dr. Jb Minter, the Zoo's Director of Animal Health, said in a release.
Melissa Vindigni a polar bear keeper at the NC Zoo says she will never forget the things she has learned from Payton.
"He was the best boy bear. His trust was worth the effort to earn and it was a privilege and honor to have earned that. He loved training and interacting with his keepers and vet techs and his trust in us really shined with his willingness to work with us on his own health care. I learned so much from him and I was blessed to work with him," she said in a release.
The zoo is still investigating the cause of Payton's death.