North America’s Oldest Polar Bear Living in Captivity Dies at 36 Years Old

A close up of Snow Lilly. The bear is standing in the snow and has some snow on its snout.
In captivity under human care, a polar bear’s life expectancy is about 23 years, per AP. Polar bears rarely live past 30 years old in the wild, with most adult bears dying before they reach 25. Milwaukee County Zoo

The oldest polar bear living under human care in North America has died at 36 years old, reports Steven Martinez for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. On September 24, the female polar bear known as Snow Lilly was humanely euthanized at the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin due to her declining health and quality-of-life concerns. According to the Journal Sentinel, a recent health exam found that Snow Lilly had heart disease and other age-related medical issues.

 “She will be sorely missed by both staff and visitors,” says Amos Morris, the Milwaukee County Zoo’s director, to CNN’s Theresa Waldrop. “As a geriatric bear, animal care staff closely monitored her and watched for signs of any discomfort or decline in her quality of life.”

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Snow Lilly arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2005 after being transferred from the Bronx Zoo in New York, per the Associated Press. Polar bears have large flat feet with webbing between the toes that help them walk on ice and swim. According to a Milwaukee Zoo Facebook post, Snow Lilly loved swimming. In summer, she would bounce a rubber ball like a basketball at the bottom of the large pool in her enclosure.

Snow Lilly’s favorite treats were apples, molasses and peanut butter, according to zoo officials. For her birthdays, she often enjoyed cakes filled with Jell-O, trail mix, and fish, reports Madison Goldbeck for WDJT-Milwaukee.

In captivity under human care, a polar bear’s life expectancy is about 23 years, per AP. Polar bears rarely live past 30 years old in the wild, with most adult bears dying before they reach 25, per the National Wildlife Federation.

In recent years, Snow Lilly had a regimen of medications and supplements to ease joint pain, per CNN. A necropsy will be performed on Snow Lilly to inform zoo experts about the polar bear health in captivity and later be used to aid other bears living in human care, per the Journal Sentinel. The Milwaukee County Zoo has a partnership with Polar Bears International and is actively involved with outreach programs and conservation efforts to help conserve the polar bear.

Currently, the polar bear is listed as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List. Polar bears are facing drastic changes to their environment because of warming temperatures and melting Arctic ice, according to a Milwaukee County Zoo statement. 

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