The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG–Trauma is being cited as the likely reason for the death of a young polar bear at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo last month.
But what caused that trauma remains a mystery.
The nearly three-year-old bear, named “Eli,” died July 15 after internal swelling of the tissue in his throat and neck interfered with his breathing.
The animal died shortly after he had been anesthetized so veterinary staff could try to figure out what had caused a sudden change in his behaviour and lack of appetite that began July 14.
Dr. Chris Enright, the zoo’s head veterinarian, said he believes the animal must have been involved in a mishap of some unknown nature and an investigation continues.
Eli came to the zoo with his brother, “York,” from Churchill after their mother was killed in October, 2015 when a noise-making device designed to scare bears away exploded too close to her.
There are nine polar bears remaining at the zoo, including males “Storm,” “Blizzard,” “York,” and “Siku,” along with females “Aurora,” “Kaska,” “Star,” “Nanuq,” and “Juno.”
“We’ve spent some time reviewing footage from the days leading up to his passing and there’s nothing jumping out,” noted Enright.
“It didn’t look like an allergic reaction or something like that, under the microscope, as a potential cause of the swelling.”
Enright said Eli did not have a broken neck or spine injury, and there’s been no indication of any toxins, foreign objects, substances, or dangerous or suspicious areas in the bear enclosure.
“It’s a little puzzling,” he admitted. “Theories, that’s kind of all we have at this point.”
A slip or a fall is on their list of possibilities.
Enright said dealing with the loss of Eli has been made more difficult for all zoo staff in the absence of a definitive answer.
“It’s a challenge,” he stressed. “We definitely are keeping a close eye on the exhibit, on the other bears, trying to see if there’s steps that can be taken in light of this.
“But without the smoking gun, we’re just looking at everything we can right now.”
Eli and his brother were brought to Winnipeg a few days after their mother’s death because they would not have survived in the wild on their own.