Gus the Central Park polar bear dead at 27

NEW YORK Wed Aug 28, 2013 12:45pm EDT

1 of 2. Gus, a 17-year-old polar bear, frolics near the vent of a water circulation system called 'endless pool,' which simulates a natural current, in the polar bear exhibit at the Central Park Zoo in New York, in this file photo from July 1, 2002. The Zoo's famous 1,000-pound polar bear has died at the age of 27, the Zoo reported August 28, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Morgan/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gus, the Central Park Zoo's polar bear, has died after spending the last two years alone following the death of his mate, Ida, in 2011, zoo officials said on Wednesday. He was 27.

Gus became a symbol for the New York City park and was seen by an estimated 20 million visitors in his lifetime, according to a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Central Park Zoo.

Veterinarians euthanized Gus on Tuesday after discovering a large, inoperable tumor in his thyroid region, the society said.

"Gus had been exhibiting abnormal feeding behavior with low appetite and difficulty chewing and swallowing his food," the statement said.

The median life expectancy for a male polar bear in zoos is 20.7 years, the society said, citing the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

When Ida died of liver disease at age 25, commentators expressed concern that Gus would be lonely.

In 1994, Gus gained media attention out of concern for his repetitive swimming pattern. In response to that behavior, zoo keepers developed a program to keep his mind and body more active, such as having Gus forage for food. His behavior improved after zoo officials brought in an animal psychologist who treated the animal with toys, games and a better designed habitat, the New York Times reported.

"He was an important ambassador for his species bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment," Jim Breheny, the society's executive vice president of zoos and aquariums, said in the statement. "Polar bears are apex predators - the kings of their domain, but vulnerable in a world affected by climate change brought on by human activity."

Gus was born at the Toledo Zoo in 1985 and came to the Central Park Zoo in 1988, the statement said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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