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Polar bear dies at Indianapolis Zoo

Tahtsa, the zoo's 34-year-old polar bear, has died.
/ Source: WTHR-TV

Indianapolis - Some sad news from the Indianapolis Zoo Wednesday.

Tahtsa, the zoo's 34-year-old polar bear, has died.

Tahtsa (pronounced TOTsa) was the oldest living polar bear known to scientists either in captivity or in the wild. Polar bears may live into their early to mid-twenties.

The zoo says Tahtsa had experienced the complications of aging over the past few years. On Wednesday, she was no longer able to stand and veterinarians made the decision to euthanize her. The zoo believes Tahtsa may have had a neurological problem. A necropsy may yield further results.

Tahtsa was born at the Denver Zoo in 1974. She went to the Louisville Zoo in March 1976 and came to the Indianapolis Zoo on loan on October 10, 2006.

The zoo says Tahtsa acclimated well to the polar bear exhibit. She was a favorite among the zoo staff, who say she placed her paws in footbaths for treatments, opened her mouth and presented her paw on cue, and even did some painting.

She was smaller than the zoo's other female polar bear, Tundra, who is 23 years old. The zoo says the two bears were not on exhibit together, and officials don't believe Tundra will be adversely affected by Tahtsa's death.

Endangered species

The zoo says the loss was not unexpected, but that any polar bear death is acutely felt because of the dwindling population of the animal in the wild. Biologists use a working figure of 20,000 to 25,000 bears with about sixty percent of those living in Canada.

The main threat to this dwindling population today is the loss of their icy habitat due to climate change. Polar bears depend on the sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases to den. The summer ice loss in the Arctic is now equal to an area the size of Alaska, Texas, and the state of Washington combined.

The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has reclassified the polar bear as a vulnerable species
on the IUCN's Red List of Endangered Species, and they reported that of the 19 subpopulations of polar bears, five are declining, five are stable, two are increasing, and seven have insufficient data on which to base a decision.

On May 14, 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior reclassified the polar bear as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act, citing concerns about sea ice loss. Canada and Russia list the polar bear as a species of concern.

(Info from Indy Zoo)