Gus, Central Park Zoo's star polar bear, dies at 27

This photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society This photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows the polar bear Gus at the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan. (Aug. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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A popular polar bear named Gus who attracted millions of visitors to the Central Park Zoo and outlived both of his longtime female companions has died. He was 27.

Veterinarians euthanized Gus on Tuesday. He'd had a poor appetite and difficulty chewing and swallowing; it was determined he had a large inoperable tumor in his thyroid region.

Officials estimate that more than 20 million zoo-goers visited Gus, including many New Yorkers who grew up watching him.

"Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff," said Jim Breheny, executive vice president of zoos and aquarium with the Wildlife Conservation Society. "He was an important ambassador for his species, bringing attention to the problems these bears face in the wild due to a changing environment."

Gus, born at the Toledo Zoo in Ohio in 1985, came to the Manhattan zoo three years later.
In 1994, concern developed over his repetitive swimming pattern. An enrichment program was designed that included positive reinforcement, movable items for him to manipulate, and foraging for food to keep his mind and body healthy.

He became the center of a study that examined the behavior patterns of polar bears that leave their natural habitats, and helped researchers on projects involving animal depression.

The median life expectancy for male polar bears in zoos is 20.7 years, the WCS said. Gus outlived two female companions: Ida died in June 2011 at the age of 25, while Lily died in 2004 at the age of 18.

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