Thursday, June 14, 2007
In Memory of Masha
It's not every day you get to eulogize a polar bear, but that was exactly my bosses wanted me to do when I walked in this morning. Not a problem. After a quick phone call to my pal Rod Hackney, I headed to Asheboro to pay my respects. What I found was a zoo subdued, its many keepers quiet and lost in thought. It was a far cry from the punchy atmosphere surrounding these apex predators' arrival back in late 2002. On that day, everyone held their collective breath as two polar bears rescued from a substandard traveling circus in Puerto Rico took their first tentative steps into the far swankier digs of the North Carolina Zoo. Following years of abuse by cruel circus handlers, Masha and Wilhelm got a second crack at being a bear. Overnight, they began charming visitors with their goofy expressions and playful antics, until these less than pristine animals were considered the N.C. Zoo's marquee beasts. But ten days ago, Masha fell ill - victim to the many afflictions he acquired while living in squalor. The veterinary staff did all they could, but yesterday they had no choice but to put poor Masha down. He was 24 years old, and a very good bear.