Toronto Zoo honours grizzly bear Samson’s life with ceremony and cedar bath

The Toronto Zoo said farewell to a 25-year-old grizzly bear named Samson with an Indigenous ceremony held by knowledge keepers in April.

“In honouring the importance Samson’s spirit, our Indigenous relations team arranged to hold a ceremony with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers in the Canadian Domain where Samson spent all of his 24 years with us of his life. The ceremony was based on Anishnaabe and Tsimshian teachings, using various medicines, pipe ceremony and songs,” said an April 13 press release. “Samson was present, and the ceremony conductors gave him a cedar bath.”

Tsimshian people are from the northwest coast of B.C. and hold very strong connections to grizzlies. The zoo said it felt it was important to have this representation and were honoured to have them for the ceremony.

Samson arrived at the zoo on September 22, 1998, at around six-months-old. Born in Alaska, he was found by Alaskan officials undernourished and wandering with no mother.

The zoo said it was apparent Samson was experiencing stiffness and discomfort from progressive arthritic changes to his hips and knees waking up from hibernation this year.

“With him relying so heavily on pain management medication, the decision to humanely euthanize him was made quickly and unanimously among his care team so as not to prolong any suffering. Our hearts go out to all those who had the privilege of working with him during his many years at our Zoo. He will be missed dearly,” said the release.

According to zoo officials, Samson’s connection to his keepers was apparent even in his final moments.

After enjoying a special meal of salmon, watermelon, and berries, he voluntarily presented his hip and shoulder for his last anesthetic injection from the veterinary team, just as he had practiced daily for most of his life.

“While it is hard to say goodbye, there is comfort in knowing this voluntary participation means he experienced minimal stress or discomfort,” the release concluded.

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