Oldest Living Polar Bear in Captivity Dies at 36

by Jennifer Shea
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Snow Lilly, the oldest living polar bear in captivity in North America, has died at age 36.

The Milwaukee County Zoo announced Snow Lilly’s death on Saturday. They had to euthanize the polar bear out of concern for her declining health and quality of life, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The median lifespan for polar bears in captivity is 23.4 years, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In the wild, the average lifespan is 15 to 18 years.

“Snow Lilly was a visitor favorite at the Zoo and considered one of the iconic animals in the population,” Milwaukee Zoo Director Amos Morris said in a statement. “She will be sorely missed by both staff and visitors.”

Polar Bear Had Heart Disease, Showed Signs of Worsening Health

Snow Lilly arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo from the Bronx Zoo in 2005. A recent health check showed that she had heart disease. She also showed signs of other age-related health declines.

Zookeepers had been giving Snow Lilly supplements for her aging joints. Plus, they provided her with activities that kept her engaged right up to the end, per CNN. She liked swimming in her pool during the summer months and bouncing a large rubber ball against the pool’s floor.

The zoo’s staff was reportedly watching Snow Lilly closely for signs of discomfort due to her old age.

Snow Lilly had become a revered zoo animal in Milwaukee, where she had recently replaced a groundhog in the city’s Groundhog Day celebration. She also celebrated her birthday in tandem with Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich.

The zoo will do a necropsy on the polar bear, in hopes of gathering information that might be useful to other captive polar bears. Final necropsy results will be released in the next few months.

Coldilocks Recently Predeceased Snow Lilly

In 2018, Coldilocks, then the oldest living polar bear in the U.S., died at the Philadelphia Zoo, the country’s oldest zoo. She was 37.

Zookeepers euthanized the polar bear due to declining health. She reportedly exhibited behavior changes and decreasing appetite as a result of age-related health problems.

Coldilocks had lived in Philadelphia since 1981. She was born in 1980 at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York, according to NBC Philadelphia.

“We are truly saddened this week. Coldilocks will be greatly missed,” Philadelphia Zoo Chief Operating Officer Dr. Andy Baker said. “For more than three decades, Coldilocks brought attention to the issues facing polar bears in the wild, including climate change and its growing negative impact on arctic ice. The zoo works to share ways in which we all can make small changes in our daily lives to reduce energy use, contributing to efforts to slow climate change.”

Other long-lived polar bears to pass on in recent years include Tundra, who died in 2018 in New York at age 26, and Klondike, who died in 2015 in Philadelphia at age 34.

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