The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore announced today (January 15, 2013) the sad passing of Alaska, the female polar bear.
Alaska had been in good health for a bear suffering from kidney failure, which is common in geriatric bears. Unfortunately over the past several weeks, Alaska's quality of life had declined sharply and was humanely euthanized during the morning hours.
"Alaska was such a remarkable polar bear with a story that touched thousands of people over the course of her life here at the Zoo," said Don Hutchinson, president and CEO of The Maryland Zoo. "Words cannot describe how our entire staff is feeling, in particular the keepers who worked with her every day for years. In the ten years she lived at the Zoo with Magnet, we think she enjoyed a good life here."
Alaska came to the Maryland Zoo in the spring of 2002 after being confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Puerto Rico. Alaska was abandoned in Puerto Rico after serving in a Mexican circus with six other bears. She was the first one taken and the remaining bears were sent to other accredited zoos around the country.
"When Alaska arrived at the Zoo, she was overweight and had poor muscle tone," said Mike McClure, general curator. "We weren't sure if she would even know how to swim. However, with a change in diet and lifestyle, she did end up spending a lot of time in the pool with Magnet and she became a Zoo favorite."
"Alaska was diagnosed with early kidney disease, a common ailment in bears, almost five years ago in February of 2008," stated Dr. Ellen Bronson, chief veterinarian for the Zoo. "We were able to manage her kidney disease very well for a long time, which was in no small part due to the keeper's efforts, their ability to collect diagnostic samples regularly, and the multifaceted medical and nutritional treatments we worked out for her."
"As geriatric bear, we focused on keeping her level of care consistent, and providing a special diet to slow the progression of disease and to keep her weight up. We had been monitoring her for any signs of lethargy or discomfort, adjusting medications as necessary. Unfortunately, it became apparent that her quality of life was in decline and we knew that the time had come to make the tough decision to euthanize her," continued Bronson.
"A necropsy will be performed as vital information can continue to be gleaned from her scientifically," stated Bronson. "She will contribute to research studies and can benefit polar bears with similar disease in the years to come."
"Alaska was a very special animal," said McClure. "One of the most amazing and personable bears you'll ever see in your life. She will be sorely missed."
The Maryland Zoo has two polar bears on exhibit at Polar Bear Watch, male Magnet and female Anoki.