Gus the polar bear, an icon at New York City's Central Park Zoo, is dead
at 27, euthanized by veterinarians for a large inoperable tumor, The Associated Press reported.
Gus beat the odds, having lived six years longer than the median life expectancy of a male polar bear in a zoo, which is less than 21 years, the AP noted.
"Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff," said Jim Breheny of the Wildlife Conservation Society
. "He was an important ambassador for his species bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment."
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A media darling, Gus was often the face of the zoo, notes the Central Park Zoo's website, having appeared in numerous local and national newspapers and television newscasts.
In 1994, zoo officials were concerned over Gus' repetitive swimming pattern and developed an enrichment program that featured moveable items for him to manipulate. Experts also had Gus forage for food to keep his mind and body healthy, the AP notes.
Gus came to the Central Park Zoo at 3 years of age in 1988, after having been born in Ohio's Toledo Zoo.
During his lifetime at the Central Park Zoo, Gus outlived two longtime female companions, Ida and Lily, and was visited by more than 20 million people, zoo officials estimated.
There was no mention by zoo officials as to whether or not he would be replaced by another polar bear.
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Keeping polar bears in captivity is controversial. Critics argue that, considering polar bears are the widest ranging terrestrial mammal on earth, no replicated environment in a zoo can adequately satisfy the range of biological and behavioral needs of a polar bear.
A critically endangered species, with an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears believed to remain in the wild, the massive predators have seen their habitat shrink consistently in recent decades due in part to the thinning of artic ice, according to some experts.
Of the five nations that support polar bear populations, Canada has approximately 60 percent of the world’s population.
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