Africa’s only polar bear mourns death of partner

Wang, the only polar bear in Africa, has taken the death of his life-long partner very hard, tearing up toys and grass in the enclosure they shared. Two weeks after his loss, he is still grieving.

In mourning: Wang has been pacing about and ripping toys. Picture: Reuters
In mourning: Wang has been pacing about and ripping toys. Picture: Reuters

Geebee, 30, was found dead in the pool of her Johannesburg Zoo enclosure after a heart attack. The two had been partners since they arrived at the South African zoo in 1985.

“When we found her dead he wouldn’t let us to her,” the zoo’s chief vet Katja Koeppel said. “He refused to go back into the night room. He stayed out in the sun.”

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If not pacing about, Wang stood by Geebee’s body and barely ate his rations, she said. After 24 hours, Ms Koeppel had to sedate Wang to retrieve Geebee’s remains.

For days afterwards, he was inconsolable, cutting up his toys and even bending the steel door of his pen, she said.

Geebee arrived nearly three decades ago from Canada, while Wang came from a zoo in Japan. Despite being life-long partners, they did not breed, as females must be in temperatures below 20C for a minimum of 30 days.

“I don’t expect Wang to live for more than a year. He is 30 now. He is an old man,” Ms Koeppel said.

He is likely to be the last of his kind in Africa. “It is not right to keep polar bears in this environment and we are doing nothing for conservation because we can’t breed them,” the vet said.