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Andean bear euthanized at the National Zoo

Tuesday - 8/7/2012, 3:51pm  ET

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Nikki first arrived at the zoo five years ago severely overweight and eventually lost 200 pounds. (Photo Courtesy of the National Zoo)

WASHINGTON - Andean bears aren't a common sight in the United States. Spectacled fur and short snouts set them apart from their American counterparts, making them a special treat for visitors to the National Zoo.

But now the zoo has one less Andean bear after a 20-year-old male named Nikki was euthanized Monday.

Officials say the father of two developed an ulcer on his lower jaw in 2011. A biopsy determined the ulcer was an aggressive type of cancer, which veterinarians were able to surgically remove. After, Nikki was put in chemotherapy to stop any further spreading of the disease. He did well for a year until the cancer moved to other parts of his body.

"It's always hard to lose an animal we care so much about, and we feel very lucky to have had Nikki as part of the National Zoo family," Craig Saffoe, curator of Great Cats and Bears at the National Zoo said in a news release. "He was a really cool bear gushing with personality, which made him a favorite amongst visitors and keepers alike."

Nikki first arrived at the zoo five years ago severely overweight. He was able to lose 200 pounds through a special weight loss plan, and eventually fathered two cubs. Bernardo and Chaska were the first of their species to be born at the zoo in 22 years.

Only 2,000 Andean bears are left in the wild, officials estimate. They are listed on the International Union for Conservation's Red List of Threatened Species and typically live 20 to 25 years in captivity. Currently two are on exhibit at the National Zoo, though they can only be seen on the weekends.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)