Saying Goodbye to Rio

The Phoenix Zoo’s 26-year-old female Andean bear, Rio, was humanely euthanized on Friday, April 15.

Rio was born at the Calgary Zoo in 1995 and came to the Phoenix Zoo in 1996 as a ten-month-old cub along with her sister, Mischief, to be the cornerstone of the Forest of Uco habitats. She was our last original resident of the Forest of Uco and is known for her big personality and penchant for doing things on her own schedule.  She successfully raised one cub in 2013, Luka, and has been housed with several males.  She endeared herself to many of her keepers (and each male bear) over the years who fell in love with her independent nature.

Recently, Rio had shown lethargy and had stopped eating. She was anesthetized for a medical exam and the abdominal ultrasound showed dilated ureters that were partially obstructed due to a urinary bladder tumor. After careful consideration and discussion between veterinarians, curator and keeper staff about surgically removing the tumor, it was deemed that the aggressive nature of the tumor would require extensive bladder resection and is unlikely to be successful and the extensive post operative care was not feasible.

The Zoo currently houses Agapito, or “Auggie,” a two-year-old male Andean bear who is usually found high up in his favorite tree.

Andean bears, also known as spectacled bears due to the cream/whitish coloring around their eyes, are the only bear species native to South America.

Median life expectancy for Andean bears is 26.1 years of age.



From Carnivore Keeper II, Kim:

Her stubbornness and experience at the Zoo always taught her keepers who was in charge.  If Rio did not want to do something, there was very little that would persuade her, except her favorite treats of popcorn and grape jelly. However, if you could earn Rio’s trust, she was the sweetest bear in the world. She was always willing to train with keepers and she was an excellent painter! Some of her favorite activities were tapping her feet while she ate, looking through the window when keepers took too long, and remaking her beds when the keepers didn’t do it correctly. Rio touched so many lives and will be greatly missed by staff and guests alike.


From Interim Carnivore Collection Manager, Dawn:

Rio was an exceptionally smart bear and would always test the new keepers to see if she could trick them into giving her extra snacks when she shifted out to her habitat in the mornings. Even though she was about 100 lbs. lighter than the male bears she shared her habitat with Rio was definitely the boss, forcing her keepers to get creative while tossing the midday diet to the bears in the habitat to prevent Rio from claiming all the food for herself. We will miss her adorable face peering through the night house windows every afternoon to see how close her keepers were to serving her dinner.


From Senior Carnivore Keeper, Heather:

Super intelligence and tenacity, paired with an insatiable sweet tooth, often landed Rio in comical situations.  Even though she was an Andean bear, not a Brown bear, I am convinced she was a not-so-distant cousin of self-proclaimed lover of “pic-a-nic baskets”, Mr. Yogi Bear of Jellystone Park, that mythical, utopian suburb of Yellowstone.  Not such a far-fetched hypothesis considering the fact that she hails from Calgary!