Posted September 2021
The Milwaukee County Zoo is saddened to announce the passing of one of its beloved animals, polar bear Snow Lilly. Due to declining health and subsequent quality of life concerns, the decision was made to humanely euthanize Snow Lilly.
At 36 years old, Snow Lilly was the oldest polar bear living in human care in North America. She came to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2005 from the Bronx Zoo. Reaching this remarkable age, Snow Lilly reflects the excellent care that has been provided to her by the Milwaukee County Zoo animal care team. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the median life expectancy for polar bears in human care is 23.4 years.
Because of her advanced age, Snow Lilly underwent a wellness exam by Zoo veterinarians and animal care staff on Sept. 23. Under anesthesia, the veterinary specialists checked and assessed her overall health. Initial findings showed heart disease and age-related changes.
“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.”
Keepers comment that Snow Lilly enjoyed swimming in her pool in the summer when temperatures were warm and could often be seen bouncing a large rubber ball on the bottom of the pool like a basketball. In winter, she preferred to lay on the “land” portion of her habitat. In the wild, polar bears are generally solitary animals, and her keepers say she preferred having the habitat to herself.
Apples, peanut butter, and molasses were on the list of her favorite treats, and the Zoo and keepers celebrated her milestone birthdays with “birthday cakes” filled with fish, Jell-O, and trail mix.
A necropsy (animal autopsy) will be performed, as important information can continue to be collected from the necropsy, and help other polar bears living in human care. Final necropsy 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.
In the U.S., polar bears are listed as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. In the wild, the primary conservation concern for polar bears is habitat loss and reduced access to their seal prey due to climate change. Other challenges include pollution, increased commercial use of the Arctic, overharvest, disease, and inadequate habitat protection (denning and seasonal resting areas).
Scientists predict that as the Arctic continues to warm, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within this century.