Oldest Polar Bear in the U.S. Dies, Reminding Us of Aging Animal Populations in Captivity

Last week, after exhibiting signs of significant deterioration in her health and rendered non-ambulatory, the Philadelphia Zoo made the decision to euthanize one of their two polar bears. Klondike, who was born at the Bronx Zoo in 1980, was a favorite among local zoo visitors and known among devoted polar bear enthusiasts across the nation as the oldest captive polar bear in the US.

Veterinary clinicians, unable to successfully treat a persistent urinary tract infection in the aging bear, were concerned that her quality of life would continue to worsen. She was already unable to stand a condition prompting the decision to humanely euthanize her.

At the time of her death the 34-year old polar bear had well exceeded the average age of captive polar bears by four years. Wild polar bears rarely live beyond 20-25 years of age. According to AnAge, an animal aging and longevity database, the oldest polar bear in the world reached an age of 43.8 years before she died in 1991. The wild born animal died at the Detroit Zoo, which has one of the largest and most sophisticated polar ecosystem exhibits in the world.

Everyday, zoos and aquariums around the world announce the passing of resident animals, most of which were born in captivity. For many species, management and care in captive wildlife facilities extends lifespans two to three times that of free-ranging wildlife. This wasn’t always the case. Historically, zoos were challenged in their efforts to keep animals alive and many individuals rarely reached their natural lifespan, succumbing to health issues and particularly communicable diseases at ages younger than their wild counterparts.

Today, zoos are inundated with aging animals. This is a testament to the exemplary healthcare and husbandry offered to animal ambassadors in captivity. Board certified veterinarians trained in zoological medicine —> Read More