Gus The Polar Bear Euthanized, 27: Central Park Zoo Remembers Beloved Animal [VIDEO]

By Danny Choy on August 29, 2013 7:03 PM EDT

Gus the polar bear
Gus and Ida play at the Central Park Zoo. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Gus the polar bear has lost his appetite for the past couple of days. Veterinarians of the Central Park Zoo hoped that Gus was just suffering a bad toothache, but animal specialists discovered an inoperable tumor in Gus' thyroid after further examination on Tuesday afternoon. Gus the polar bear was euthanized.

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Gus was born in Toledo, Ohio, to parents Nanook and Snowflake. At just three years old, he was transported from Toleda to start his life anew in the energetic city of New York. Gus the polar bear quickly embraced his new habitat in Central Park and made good use of the pool by swimming in it for hours.

In fact, the zoo grew worried that Gus was swimming too often, as much as 12 hours a day, every day of every week of every month. Gus the polar bear would even swim lap after lap in a mesmerizing figure-eight pattern. The odd behavior caused the zoo to investigate whether Gus did not enjoy his new home or if he was suffering from physical or emotional distress.

"It's too repetitive," recalled Dr. William Conway, then the general director of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "The first thing you worry about is whether this reflects some deep-seated physical problem. Is he losing weight? Is his appetite off? Is his behavior toward the ladies he's living with declining?"

As the behavior continued, news outlets began to create stories on Gus. In fact, animal activists even suggested that the polar bear deserves a life in the wild and cannot adapt to a life in captivity.

Ultimately, an animal behaviorist investigated Gus' behavior and concluded that the furry bear was bored! In order to better stimulate Gus, the zoo created an enrichment program that would encourage his curiosity. Sometimes his meals were turned into challenges. His mackerel lunch is frozen in a block of ice. His chicken dinner is wrapped underneath rawhide. Gus must play around with his food in order to eat it.

What's more, Gus the polar bear was given a newly redesigned habitat as well. A playroom was added with toys like traffic cones and balls for variety. The enrichment program worked and the swimming became less frequent, less repetitive. "

In addition, Gus the polar bear enjoyed two female companions. Unfortunately, one of the companions, Lily, died at the age of 17 in 2004 when doctors discovered an abdominal mass. Gus lost Ida to liver disease when she was 25 years old. Gus the polar bear did not have offspring.

Polar bears rank among one of the most popular attractions in zoos all over the world. The large, yet graceful, furry bears are native to the Arctic Ocean. Adult male polar bears, called boars, are known to weigh between 770 to 1,500 pounds. Adult females, called sows, are approximately half the size of the opposite gender. Polar bears are specialized creatures found only in cold temperatures, moving across snow, ice, and even open water. Their main diet consists mostly of seals, which they hunt by stalking along the edge of sea ice. Although polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time in the water, as Gus aptly demonstrated in Central Park. Polar bears are classified as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"He was the iconic image for Central Park," said Jim Breheny, the general director for zoos and aquariums for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the city's zoos. "Some of my favorite images were seeing Gus in his exhibit with the New York cityscape behind him. It was surreal."

Gus the polar bear will be cremated. His death means New York City is now left with a single polar bear, 22-year-old Tundra who resides at the Bronx Zoo. As for Gus' habitat, the Central Park Zoo has yet to decide whether to find another polar bear or to select a different animal.

Finally, here is a video of Gus the polar bear doing what he does best. New York will miss you, buddy!

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