Gus, the Central Park Zoo's polar bear, has died at 27

The zoo estimates that more than 20 million people have visited the iconic polar bear.

Gus the Polar Bear

Gus the Polar Bear Julie Larsen Maher

Sad news out of the Central Park Zoo today: Zookeepers say that beloved polar bear Gus has been euthanized. Veterinarians found a large, inoperable tumor in Gus's thyroid region and put him to sleep yesterday. Gus was 27 years old; the average life expectancy for a male polar bear in a zoo is 20.7 years, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Gus, who was born in captivity at the Toledo Zoo, had been at the Central Park Zoo since 1988. In 1994, he made media waves when he started swimming in frantic circles around his pool; an animal psychologist had Gus start foraging for some of his own food and zookeepers challenge him with games. He and polar bear companion Ida were very close and spent a lot of time swimming together and cuddling; Ida died in 2011, and Gus was noticeably depressed.

Recently, zookeepers say, Gus had been suffering from a low appetite and had difficulty chewing and swallowing his food; a physical exam to discover the cause led them to the tumor. 

“Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff," Jim Breheny, the Wildlife Conservation Society's executive vice president of zoos and aquarium, said yesterday. “He was an important ambassador for his species, bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment. Polar bears are apex predators—the kings of their domain—but vulnerable in a world affected by climate change brought on by human activity.” It is estimated that 20 million people saw Gus during his time at the zoo.


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