The zoo said Blizzard, a five-year-old bear died Monday, after an illness involving fluid in the chest cavity.
Further investigation is ongoing to determine whether the cause was an infection, an abnormality in the bear’s heart, or something else.
The zoo’s Dr. Chris Enright, director of veterinary services, said Tuesday that Blizzard’s passing will be felt by staff and visitors.
“It’s always sad when we lose one of our beloved animals at the zoo,” said Enright.
“Blizzard was a beautiful animal and he will be deeply missed.”
The almost-600 lb animal was close to full grown, but Enright said five years is still a very young age for a bear to die.
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“Polar bears in captivity can live into their mid-to-late 20s, which exceeds the typical lifespan of a bear,” he said. “In a young bear, it’s unexpected.”
Enright said there’s nothing at present that suggests Blizzard had any kind of communicable disease, but the zoo is taking necessary precautions in the short-term while waiting for concrete answers.
WATCH: Other polar bears being closely watched in light of Blizzard’s death
“Diagnosing a bear is a challenge, because bears are dangerous animals,” he said. “Everything we need to do has to be done under anesthesia.
“He can’t just stick out his arm and expect us to pull blood.”
The polar bears are a major part of the zoo’s award-winning Journey to Churchill attraction.
Blizzard himself, along with his sister Star, was found in an area near Churchill as an orphan when he was a little under a year of age. Both bears came to the zoo in 2014.
Enright, who said he’ll remember Blizzard as “a hungry boy” said Blizzard will be cremated.
Another polar bear named Eli died at the zoo in 2017, but veterinarians ruled that trauma was likely the reason for the nearly three-year-old bear’s death, and there’s no indication the deaths of Eli and Blizzard are related in any way.
WATCH: Meet the newest additions to Winnipeg zoo’s polar bear community