North America's Oldest Polar Bear Living in Human Care Euthanized at 36

The oldest captive polar bear in North America, Snow Lilly, died on Friday at the age of 36. A resident of Wisconsin's Milwaukee County Zoo since 2005, Snow Lilly had become a beloved figure among both staff and guests.

Snow Lilly's death was announced on Saturday, in a Milwaukee County Zoo Facebook post. Support flooded in on social media: a video accompanying the announcement has been viewed 91,000 times at the time of writing.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, polar bears in human care typically live for 23.4 years—a number which Snow Lilly exceeded by about 13 years.

In the wild, polar bear lifespans are often even shorter. While some have been known to reach 30 years of age, it's an extremely rare occurrence. Most wild adult polar bears have a lifespan of just 15-18 years, explained Polar Bears International.

Despite their increased lifespan, the practice of keeping polar bears under human care is a controversial one, as the stresses of captivity are often at odds with the species' natural roaming instincts and massive Arctic habitat.

According to CBS 58, the decision to euthanize Snow Lilly came after zoo veterinarians found signs of heart disease and age-related health problems during a recent wellness check.

Polar Bear
A polar bear—likely Snow Lilly—at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2018. Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

As Zoo Director, Amos Morris told the news outlet: "She will be sorely missed by both staff and visitors. As a geriatric bear, animal care staff closely monitored her and watched for signs of any discomfort or decline in her quality of life."

"For her comfort, in the recent years she was provided with Vitamin A supplements and medication for joint health," added Amos. "Snow Lilly could interact with enrichment items daily that encouraged natural behaviors and kept her mind and body active up until the end."

Commemorating her 36th birthday, this past December, the Milwaukee County Zoo described Snow Lilly as "a favorite animal of visitors and staff" ever since she was transferred from the Bronx Zoo in 2005.

She celebrated the big day with two "birthday cakes": the first consisted of rainbow Jell-o and shrimp while the second was made of frozen fish.

On a daily basis, Snow Lilly would eat a whopping "6-7 pounds of ground meat, 1 pound of lard, 2-3 pounds of fish, various produce items and 3 gallons of polar bear pellets," added the zoo.

Newsweek has reached out to the Milwaukee County Zoo for additional comment.