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Boris: The Polar Bear Exam

He’s an elder statesman of the polar bear world – and he’s beloved here at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. And right now, he needs all our loving thoughts.
Boris just turned 32 – way above the median male life expectancy of around 21. That’s a huge testimony to the care he’s received here at the Zoo – because the first part of his life was a very different story.

Boris spent years in a substandard Mexican circus – one of six polar bears who toured constantly with only a tiny pool to swim in. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescued the bears when that circus stopped in Puerto Rico, we immediately put up our hands to give one of them a loving home.

Boris Comes to Point Defiance

Boris the polar bear.
Boris the polar bear.

Boris and another bear arrived in 2002 in terrible condition: malnourished, mangy and mistreated. We immediately gave them a big saltwater pool to swim and play in, kind attention from our keepers and the best veterinary treatment. They thrived, and Boris lived way beyond the polar bear average, delighting visitors with his playfulness and majesty.

“Boris is a bear who finds joy in the simplest things, from swimming in his sea water pool to playing with a five-gallon bucket, swimming around with it on his head,” says keeper Cindy Roberts, who has cared for Boris for eight years. “As he has gotten older, he loves his afternoon naps, with a heat lamp in winter. He has a special place in our hearts.”
Now, however, Boris is feeling his age. Sometimes age-related joint stiffness makes it hard for him to get around, and he seems to have an upset stomach.


The Exam

Zoo and guest veterinary staff prepare for Boris' exam.
Zoo and guest veterinary staff prepare for Boris’ exam.

So on Friday November 3, 2017 we gave Boris a thorough exam under anesthesia.

After anesthetizing Boris and carefully moving him into the surgery room, our head veterinarian Dr. Karen and intern veterinarian Dr. Jess, veterinary technicians, Julie and Sara, and his keepers, prepared Boris for his exam.

They placed several IV ports for fluids and medications, after shaving off a little of that wiry blonde fur.


Dr. Kelly and Dr. Karen Wolf perform an ultrasound on Boris.
Dr. Kelly and Dr. Karen Wolf perform an ultrasound on Boris.

Then, while the vets monitored his heart rate and other vital signs, a consulting internal medicine veterinarian, Dr. Kelly, did an ultrasound of Boris’ gall bladder, where we know he has gallstones (more shaving, plus that blue goop!).

The vets drew blood for testing and banking – 22 vials altogether.


Looking deep into Boris' esophagus via an endoscope.
Looking deep into Boris’ esophagus via an endoscope.

Next it was time for the endoscopy. Dr. Kelly inserted the long sterile camera and everyone anxiously watched the screen – right down inside his esophagus and stomach, to look for any abnormalities.




Cutting polar bear toenails takes a big clipper.
Cutting polar bear toenails takes a big clipper.

Meanwhile, with blankets over him to keep him warm, Boris got a mani-pedi and a dental cleaning.

Cutting a polar bear’s toenails is tough work – Dr. Karen needed the big pruner and file for this job. But it will help Boris walk more easily around his den and habitat.



Examining Boris' eyes with a macro-lens camera and phone app.
Examining Boris’ eyes.

Finally, visiting veterinary ophthalmologist, Dr. Nathan, examined Boris’ eyes, also taking images with a macro-lens camera.

Then Dr. Jess gave his ears a good clean – all that waxy grime gone. The vets also x-rayed his neck, as he’s been a bit uncomfortable lately.

After the exam, Boris was taken back to recover in his den, watched closely by our zoo vets and keepers until he was fully awake and doing well. As he’s a super-senior bear, he took it easy for a while after the exam, while our vets decided on the best treatment for him. Now, he’s recovered and back to his usual self, reports Dr. Karen.

Here’s to many more happy years for Boris!


FIND OUT MORE: Get the latest on Boris here.