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Polar bear at Utah’s Hogle Zoo to undergo surgery Monday for broken humerus

SALT LAKE CITY — Nora, a 3-year-old polar bear at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, will undergo surgery Monday to repair a broken humerus.

According to the zoo, Nora was found in her exhibit on Jan. 23 unwilling to move. Keepers monitored her closely for the next two days, but Nora didn't budge. By Saturday morning, she made her way into the back holding area, allowing the zoo's animal care team better access.

Nora walks around the Rocky Shores exhibit at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.
Nora walks around the Rocky Shores exhibit at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

An examination was performed Sunday, including X-rays, which confirmed the 500-pound bear, who had metabolic bone disease as a cub, broke her front, right leg between her shoulder and elbow, rendering her unable to walk.

Veterinarians consulted with numerous zoos, veterinary surgeons, radiologists and human orthopedic specialists across the country regarding bone breaks in young bears. It is noted at least three bears of Nora's age have fractured bones in their legs from playing too hard.

"She's a very rambunctious bear," lead keeper Kaleigh Jablonski said in a statement. "It's not unusual to watch her head-dive into the snow without any hesitation. She just plays rough."

A large-animal orthopedic team from Texas A&M, a human orthopedic surgeon from University of Utah Hospital and a veterinary anesthesiologist from North Carolina State University will be perform the surgery. Zoo officials said the procedure is expected to take the bulk of the day and will involve heavy-duty orthopedic hardware such as plates, screws, pins and nails.

"Nora is one of the most special, most charismatic animals of our Hogle Zoo family," Dr. Erika Crook, Hogle Zoo associate veterinarian, said. "We have reached out far and wide to find experts to give her the best chance possible to get back on her feet. She's in very good hands."

According to the zoo, Nora is currently on pain medications and is in her back-holding area.

During the post-op period she will likely require additional anesthetic procedures for follow-up X-rays to see how the break is healing. Should the fix break, she may require additional procedures. Either way, Nora will be off exhibit for the next several months.

Nora arrived at the zoo in the fall of 2017 to be paired with then 2-year-old polar bear Hope. Born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the bear then spent a year at Oregon Zoo before moving to Salt Lake City.