Patches, one of two polar bears at the N.C. Zoo, has died less than a month after the zoo opened a new polar bear exhibit.
Patches died Sunday after several weeks of declining health, zoo officials announced Monday. She was 26.
A necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, showed that Patches had an extensive lung mass that suggests lung cancer.
The average lifespan of a polar bear in the wild is 15 to 18 years, noted zoo Director David Jones.
“She exceeded wildlife expectations by living a long life,” Jones said. “She will be greatly missed by the zoo’s staff and visitors.”
The zoo completed $8.5 million in renovations to its polar bear exhibit last month. It has 2.5 acres of land area, a stream and pool, an ice cave and a den where a mother could give birth and raise cubs.
Shortly after the exhibit’s grand opening, Patches stopped eating. Zoo medical staff first thought it was related to her age.
When work began on the expanded exhibit in 2001, the zoo had two polar bears and hoped to get as many as six. One of the bears, Aquila, died in September 2013 with a ruptured stomach. Within a few weeks, the zoo lost the other, Wilhelm, who had been staying at a zoo in Milwaukee while the work was done on the exhibit here. Wilhelm stopped eating and had to be euthanized.
A month later, Patches came to the N.C. Zoo from the zoo in Erie, Pa., which had decided to close its polar bear exhibit. She recently gained a “roommate,” Anana, a 15-year-old polar bear who arrived earlier this fall from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
Zookeepers will spend the next few days introducing Anana to a new area in the expanded polar bear exhibit, which will reopen to visitors once she’s comfortable in her new surroundings.
The N.C. Zoo hopes to gain additional polar bears, possibly from other zoos. Regulations make it nearly impossible to take them from the wild, where their numbers are decreasing.