Royal OakJuly 24, 2012
Zoo’s eldest polar bear dies
By Chris Jackett
C & G Staff Writer
The Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life may seem a little emptier than normal. The eldest polar bear, Bärle, has died.
Pronounced “bear la,” the 27-year-old female and mother of 7-year-old Talini was euthanized July 18 after a physical exam revealed tumors in her abdominal cavity. According to a release from the zoo, “A necropsy showed that the lymph nodes throughout her body were abnormal and enlarged due to cancer. The preliminary diagnosis is lymphosarcoma, a term applied to malignant disease of the lymphoid tissues.”
“A few days before Bärle was examined, her keepers noticed that she was not herself, panting a lot, not eating,” Detroit Zoo Communications Director Patricia Janeway said via email. “They tried to encourage her to eat by preparing her favorite meal of chicken and sweet potatoes, but she was not interested.
“The veterinary staff decided to immobilize her to assess her condition and at that time discovered multiple tumors. Based on the necropsy findings, the veterinary staff thinks she would have lived only a few days.”
Bärle had been a staple of the zoo’s polar bear exhibit for the past 10 years since she was rescued from the Suarez Brothers Circus in Puerto Rico in 2002. She gave birth to Talini in 2004.
“We are very saddened by this loss,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer, in a release. “Bärle came a long way from living in a tiny cage and performing circus tricks in an unhealthy environment to being a healthy, nurturing mother.”
Taken out of the wild as a cub in Manitoba, Canada, Bärle was in the circus for most of her first 17 years of life before relocating to a more comfortable habitat at the Detroit Zoo, 8450 W. 10 Mile.
“We are comforted to know that we were able to provide her sanctuary for all these years,” Carter said in a release. “Since her rescue a decade ago, Bärle has been a favorite of our staff and visitors. Her death was unexpected and heartbreaking for the people who cared for her.”
Janeway said the public has expressed a great deal of support for the zoo since Bärle’s death.
“The expressions of sympathy and support from the community — on Facebook and elsewhere — have been very heartening,” Janeway said via email. “It’s clear to us that there are many people whose hearts break with ours.”
With Bärle gone, her daughter, Talini, and two other male polar bears — Aquila, 19, and Nuka, 7 —remain at the zoo.
The average life expectancy for polar bears is 15-18 years in the wild and 25-35 years in zoos.
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