Polar bear rescued as cub with brother and brought to Winnipeg zoo dies

WINNIPEG — A polar bear that was rescued as a cub and brought to a zoo in Winnipeg has died, zoo officials say.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo says in a news release that Eli, a three-year-old polar bear that has lived at the zoo since November 2015, started showing mild clinical symptoms Friday.

The zoo says his condition worsened by Saturday and he was anesthetized for further diagnosis, but died a short time later.

A preliminary necropsy shows internal swelling of tissues in the bear’s throat and neck which the zoo says likely interfered with his breathing.

The zoo says a full pathology report will be completed in the coming weeks.

Eli arrived at the zoo’s polar bear conservation centre as a cub with his brother, York, after their mother was accidentally hit by a cracker shell someone used to scare her and the cubs away from a building entrance in Churchill, Man.

“We are all deeply saddened by Eli’s passing. He was a part of our zoo family and this is a heartbreaking loss for our staff and visitors,” Gary Lunsford, the zoo’s senior director of animal care and conservation said in the news release.

The zoo noted that wildlife experts believed that when the bears were rescued as 11-month-old cubs, they were too young to have survived on their own.

It said polar bears need to stay with their mothers for at least the first two winters to learn how to hunt and to have her protection from other bears.

Once at the zoo, it said the bears act as ambassadors for their species and help educate visitors about climate change and the loss of sea ice.

The name Eli was chosen in an online vote, and was selected in honour of an elder from the First Nation that lived and hunted in the area between the Nelson and Hayes Rivers.

The zoo said it doesn’t believe any other bears, or other species, are at risk.

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