NEW YORK — There are not a huge number of ways to become famous as a polar bear. Gus somehow managed to do it by behaving like a perfectly ordinary New Yorker: He was neurotic. He became the Neurotic Polar Bear.
It was his own particular neurosis: Back in the mid-1990s, he began swimming obsessively for hours through his watery habitat in the Central Park Zoo, as if prepping for the Polar Bear Olympics, something he had never done back in his hometown, Toledo. The world took notice. An enrichment program was designed to include positive reinforcement, movable items for him to manipulate and foraging for food to keep his mind and body healthy. Improvement occurred. A furry white celebrity was born.
Gus began exhibiting appetite loss in recent days. He had trouble chewing. Zoo veterinarians hoped it might be a bad toothache. But when they examined him Tuesday, they found a large inoperable tumor in his thyroid region and decided to euthanize him.
Officials estimate more than 20 million zoo-goers visited Gus.
He had been at the Manhattan zoo since 1988, when he was 3. He was born at the Toledo Zoo in 1985 and left for the Philadelphia Zoo shortly after he was weaned from his mother. His parents, Nanook and Snowball, both died in 1996 at the Toledo Zoo, according to The Blade archives.
“Gus was a great ambassador for the peril that affects polar bears, be it climate change, hunting, or pollution,” said Jeff Sailer, the Toledo Zoo’s executive director and CEO. “It was wonderful that he was able to inspire the 20 million people who saw him while he was in New York.”
Gus was 27. The median life expectancy for male polar bears in zoos is less than 21.