ASHEBORO — A polar bear who has lived at the N.C. Zoo for 19 years died suddenly sometime overnight Tuesday, according to zoo officials.
Aquila, 21, was found dead when keepers arrived for work about 7 a.m. He had appeared in good health when they last saw him Monday evening.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, conducted Tuesday by zoo veterinarians showed that Aquila died from a ruptured stomach, which emptied the stomach contents into his chest, causing his lungs to collapse. Part of the stomach had become entrapped in a hernia in the diaphragm, which caused it to rupture, according to the zoos senior veterinarian, Dr. Ryan DeVoe.
Aquila was the last survivor of triplet polar bears two males and a female that were born at the Louisville Zoo in November 1992. The three siblings became the first bears in the N.C. Zoos polar bear exhibit when it opened in August 1994.
Aquila and the zoos other male polar bear, Wihelm, were sent to other zoos in summer 2011 as the zoo began an $8.5 million renovation and expansion of its polar bear exhibit. Aquila returned from the Detroit Zoo in April when renovations to part of the exhibit were completed, but Wilhelm remains at the Milwaukee Zoo while work on the exhibit continues.
Aquila is the second popular animal to die at the zoo in a week. Last Tuesday, keepers were forced to euthanize a gorilla, Nkosi, after he developed a still unidentified illness. Nkosi, 21, had come from the Columbus Zoo in 2008.