ASHEBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The North Carolina Zoo is mourning the loss of Payton the polar bear after he passed away on Wednesday.

Payton was in the process of being transferred to the Lousiville Zoo in Kentucky as a part of a polar bear breeding partnership at the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

After the care team left the NC Zoo with Payton, they began to perform routine checks on him. On the second check about two hours after leaving the zoo, they found Payton non-responsive.

Payton was immediately taken to a nearby large animal veterinarian who confirmed that the polar bear was dead. He was taken back to the NC Zoo where an animal autopsy was performed.

Dr. Jb Minter, NC Zoo’s Director of Animal Health said: “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.”  

Payton had resided in Asheboro since January 2021 when he was brought to the zoo to be a mate for the female polar bear Anna.

Polar bear keeper Melissa Vindigni reminisced, “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. I will never forget the things he taught me.” 

A full investigation into Payton’s death will be conducted.