Payton The Polar Bear Relocates to North Carolina Zoo For New Breeding Opportunities
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Payton The Polar Bear Relocates to North Carolina Zoo For New Breeding Opportunities

After more than a decade at Memphis Zoo, polar bear Payton has headed east to North Carolina Zoo.  

Payton arrived in Memphis on January 4, 2006 and has called Northwest Passage home for the last 15 years. Payton came to Memphis from Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. He was named after NFL player and former Chicago Bear Walter Payton.  

He celebrated his 17th birthday this past November.  

“Payton is a great bear that loves to interact with a variety of enrichment.  During his time here in Memphis, he has been the focus of an ongoing research study that examines how he spends his day and works to encourage positive behaviors while on exhibit.  During this time, we have been able to provide Payton with a snow-making machine that allows him to play in snow on his exhibit during the winter months. Like any bear, he enjoys a variety of treats. His favorites are peanut butter and lard,” said Curator Courtney Janney. 

Before Payton headed east, our keepers sent him out in style. Keeper and artist, Lexi Yang created special panels to put on Payton’s travel crate. Zoo employees also had the opportunity to write well wishes and goodbyes on the panels. Our friends at FedEx, who helped us get Payton to his new home in Asheboro, also signed the panels. Once Payton gets acclimated, he will be paired with a new female, Anana.  

You may be wondering; how do you move a polar bear? The short answer is very carefully.  Due to the size of the crate required to move an adult male bear, we were unable to safely line up the crate for him to enter from his stall.  Therefore, we needed to immobilize him, which also allowed us to perform a full physical exam, Once done, he woke up in his crate. Moving Payton required a lot of hands-on deck because he is an 1,100-pound bear!  The veterinary, animal care and operations teams were all well-prepared and worked together seamlessly to ensure a safe and successful move and loading experience for him.  

Polar bears are one of many animal species managed through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Program or "SSPs," where individual representatives from members zoos work together to ensure genetically healthy, diverse, and self-sustaining populations of threatened and endangered species. 

Polar bear breeding is incredibly important since this species is considered vulnerable in the wild.  There are currently only 11 breeding polar bear pairs in the United States.  For the species to survive, it is imperative that organizations like Memphis Zoo continue to help breed polar bears.  Due to limitations, the zoos in the U.S. have agreed to move polar bears around the country to see if mixing up the “dating pool” might result in the birth of polar bear cubs. 

Seeing Payton leave is very bittersweet for Memphis Zoo. Payton is special to Memphis Zoo. He is special to the keepers that have spent everyday training him and the researchers that worked with him over the years. Moving Payton was not something that was taken lightly. This is an event that was researched, discussed and every option weighed before deciding to move him to North Carolina. Not only because it is the best option for him, but also for the repopulation of the polar bear species. Hopefully, Payton will get to enjoy a family of his own one day.