Milwaukee County Zoo announces death of 36-year-old polar bear, Snow Lilly

NOW: Milwaukee County Zoo announces death of 36-year-old polar bear, Snow Lilly

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- The Milwaukee County Zoo announced the death of Snow Lilly, a 36-year-old polar bear on Saturday, Sept. 25.

Zoo officials say due to declining health and subsequent quality of life concerns, the decision was made to humanely euthanize Snow Lilly on Friday.

Snow Lilly underwent a wellness exam by zoo veterinarians and animal care staff on Thursday. Under anesthesia, zoo officials say initial findings showed heart disease and age-related changes. 

She was the oldest polar bear living in human care in North America. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums says the median life expectancy for polar bears in human care is 23.4 years.

Snow Lilly came to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2005 from the Bronx Zoo. 

Keepers say Snow Lilly enjoyed swimming in her pool in the summer and could often be seen bouncing a large rubber ball on the bottom of the pool like a basketball. In the winter, she preferred to lay on the "land:" portion of her habitat, officials say. In the wild, polar bears are generally solitary animals, and her keepers at the Milwaukee County Zoo say she preferred having the habitat to herself.

“Snow Lilly was a visitor favorite at the Zoo and considered one of the iconic animals in the population,” said Zoo Director, Amos Morris. “She will be sorely missed by both staff and visitors. As a geriatric bear, animal care staff closely monitored her and watched for signs of any discomfort or decline in her quality of life. For her comfort, in the recent years she was provided with Vitamin A supplements and medication for joint health. Snow Lilly could interact with enrichment items daily that encouraged natural behaviors and kept her mind and body active up until the end.”

Officials say Snow Lilly enjoyed apples, peanut butter, and molasses. Her milestone birthdays were celebrated with "cakes" filled with fish, Jell-O, and trail mix.

According to the zoo, a necropsy, an animal autopsy, will be performed to help other polar bears living in human care. Final results will be forthcoming in the upcoming months.

Snow Lilly contributed to the conservation of the natural world by acting as an ambassador for her wild counterparts, zoo officials say. 

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