Polar Bear at Central Park Zoo DiesPublished July 6, 2011
I was heavy-hearted when my husband informed me yesterday that Ida, one of the two cherished polar bears living at the Central Park Zoo, died on Friday, July 1. According to zoo officials, she was euthanized after veterinarians determined she had liver disease caused by cancer.
Born in the Buffalo Zoo in New York State in 1985, she was sent to the Central Park Zoo when she was two years old. Over the years, it is estimated that millions of people had the pleasure of watching Ida and Gus, her male companion polar bear, play and cuddle together. Since I was a frequent Central Park Zoo guest, I personally have seen them many times.
According to Huff Post, New York, Jeff Sailor, New York City’s Zoo Director, said Ida will be missed every day by both staff and zoo visitors. The 25 year-old polar bear adored by so many people became a polar bear “ambassador” for her species, inspiring guests to learn more about them and the plight polar bears face in the wild.
While Ida’s loss was certainly a very sad day for the zoo and all who had the opportunity to spend time caring for or just observing the bears interacting, many people can’t help but wonder how Gus will express his grief over her death.
Although there are those who claim that animals expressing grief is purely anthropomorphic (defined by Merriam-Webster as ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things), Marc Bekoff disagrees. He passionately shares his feelings on the subject in an article published online in “Psychology Today.”
“It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn,” Bekoff writes. “We're not the only animals who mourn. There is no doubt that many animals experience rich and deep emotions. It's not a matter of if emotions have evolved in animals but why they have evolved as they have. We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin. We have feelings and so do other animals.”
If you’re interested, you can read the rest of Bekoff’s article here.
In light of this newly traumatic incident, it will be interesting to observe Gus, who has acted a little bit “off” in the past.
In 1994, zoo-keepers suspected Gus suffered from depression after aimlessly swimming lap after lap without stopping. A therapist was called in to help the apparently troubled bear. After introducing toys and games, Gus's swimming episodes were reduced. Of course, zoo personnel will be keeping a close eye on his behavior
David Shepherdson, a zoo scientist who has extensively studied bear behavior, asserts that bears are fairly social creatures despite not mating for life.
"For any animal that form a close bond with one another, there would be some sense of loss,” Shepherdson says.
So the question remains: will Gus grieve? And still, other questions linger: if he does grieve, how will he express his emotion? Can humans ever accurately access the depth of loss animals truly experience? Since we each uniquely express our own grief, how can we possibly understand, and not just speculate, how animals really experience loss?
What do you think? Leave a comment and share your experiences.