As Gus the polar bear of the Central Park Zoo dies at 27, New Yorkers and tourists alike are remembering the beast that inhabited the attraction for nearly three decades.
Gus the polar bear’s tank is now sadly empty one day after he passed away. Handlers were forced to put Gus down after years of health problems, to much sadness inside the zoo and among fans.
Since Gus the polar bear was born in 1985, more than 20 million New York City people and visitors had visited his enclosure. But in recent years, Gus had been fighting persistent health problems and increasingly grew more ill.
Gus came into the world at the Toledo Zoo, moving to the big city at age three and becoming an instant star. He quickly became the Central Park Zoo’s most famous and beloved resident, and many identify him as their favorite thing at the park full of stuff to do.
But during a medical procedure, Gus was found to have a tumor on his thyroid gland that was untreatable. Soon, he had difficulty eating, lost his appetite, and couldn’t swallow.
The choice was straightforward but not easy. And it doesn’t seem that captivity played a role in Gus the polar bear’s death, as 25 is considered old for the creatures in the wild, and most live to just over 20 years.
Nevertheless, letting Gus go was not easy for New York. Jim Breheny, executive vice president with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said of the sad loss:
“Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff. He was an important ambassador for his species, bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment.”
Queens man Sean Stewart, 31, told the New York Daily News that seeing Gus’ tank empty was hard as he visited the zoo with his own daughter, 3. He said:
“It’s heartbreaking staring at the empty tank… It’s terrible, but what can you do? There aren’t many polar bears left.”
Gus the polar bear was predeceased by his two companions — Lily, who died in 2004 at the age of 17, and Ida, who was 25 when she passed in 2011. Like many New Yorkers, the polar bear clan were child free, opting not the hamper their big city lifestyle with the addition of cubs.