No one’s sure what happened, and we won’t have answers until a necropsy is completed. However, according to SeaWorld, Johnny had undergone a scheduled physical exam under anesthesia, and park vets believe he experienced a cardiac arrest during recovery. His death has left both park staff and visitors mourning his passing.
“Johnny was a part of our animal family,” Mike Boos, SeaWorld Orlando’s vice president of zoological operations, told the Orlando Sentinel. Team members are “feeling the loss, in much the same way a family does when they lose an older pet.”
Sadly Johnny wasn’t the only polar bear to die unexpectedly at SeaWorld. His death follows on the heels of Klondike’s, who also died unexpectedly last fall at the age of 18. His sister, Snow, also died of unknown causes a year earlier, a few months after being moved from SeaWorld to the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz.
Johnny may have been old for a polar bear — scientists put their average lifespan in the wild at 25-30 years — but now a conservation group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging neglect and urging the agency to initiate a formal investigation.
The Global Conservation Group’s Division of Legal Affairs is arguing that under the Animal Welfare Act, Johnny should have had adequate shelter and veterinary care at all times, which the group believes he did not.
While the debate surrounding captivity at SeaWorld has largely centered on orcas, others still believe that polar bears are a species who also do extremely poorly in captivity and should be phased out completely because no enclosures can meet the needs of these far-ranging animals who require cold temperatures to thrive, even with the best of intentions and updated facilities.
Polar bears are believed to inhabit the largest space of any terrestrial animal species. According to The Great Bear Almanac, the range of a single polar bear is more than 20,000 square miles. They also spend so much time swimming that they’re classified as a marine mammal in the U.S and are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
In captivity, researchers have found that among other problems, a typical enclosure is about one-millionth of their minimum home-range in the wild. They believe this is part of the reason polar bears show stereotypic behaviors, breed so poorly in captivity and have a high cub mortality rate. Everything about their physical features also makes them specifically built to thrive in cold weather, not places like Orlando.
While people continue to fight to move captive polar bears including Yupi, who is in Mexico, and Arturo, who is in Argentina, to better facilities, SeaWorld could take a step towards ending the practice of confining these large predators in inadequate enclosures in inappropriate climates by keeping Johnny’s exhibit empty.
Please sign and share the petition asking SeaWorld to show Johnny their love by committing to leave polar bears in the wild.
Photo credit: Thinkstock