A beloved polar bear has died unexpectedly at SeaWorld in San Diego.
Szenja was a 21-year-old female. She passed away Tuesday, the park said.
Caregivers said she had lost her appetite and energy for about a week leading up to her death.
Humans aren’t the only ones who can suffer from heartbreak, said the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in a statement.
PETA said Szenja’s separation from another polar bear, her 20-year companion, Snowflake, may have caused her death.
“Less than three months after PETA urged SeaWorld in vain not to separate polar bears Szenja and Snowflake, one of the bears has died,” PETA wrote on its website. “Szenja, the bear left behind alone at SeaWorld’s San Diego park, died of a broken heart, PETA believes. After losing her companion of 20 years when SeaWorld shipped Snowflake to the Pittsburgh Zoo in order to breed more miserable polar bears, Szenja did what anyone would do when they lose all hope, she gave up.”
An online petition that had been circulating online prior to Szenja’s death -- asking for the bears not to be separated -- had gathered about 56,000 signatures.
The Associated Press reported on Szenja’s death but didn’t include any details on Snowflake’s departure, or if or how that might have contributed.
A necropsy for Szenja is planned, but the park said it could be several weeks before the cause of death is known.
“Szenja was a beloved member of our animal family, so this is a very difficult day for all of us,” said Al Garver, SeaWorld San Diego’s vice president of zoological operations, in a post on the company’s Facebook page. “Szenja not only touched the hearts of those who have cared for her over the last two decades, but also the millions of guests who had the chance to see her in person. We’re proud to have been a part of her life and to know that she inspired people from around the world to want to protect polar bears in the wild.”
Szenja was born at a zoo in Germany in 1995. Two years later, she was brought to SeaWorld when the park opened its Wild Arctic exhibit, the AP said.
Polar bears can live about 18 years in the wild and 20 to 30 years or more in captivity.
The oldest polar bear in the United States, a female called Uulu, died last Friday at the San Francisco Zoo. She was 36.
An email sent to SeaWorld requesting comment on PETA’s allegations has not yet been returned, although it was sent just after business hours Wednesday night. If we hear back from SeaWorld, the park’s remarks will be added to this report.