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Africa's last polar bear dies after months of grieving longtime companion

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 10:43 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
For Valentine's Day, zookeepers brought Wang a box filled with goodies and decorated with,
For Valentine's Day, zookeepers brought Wang a box filled with goodies and decorated with, "We Love You Wang!"
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wang suffered from chronic arthritis and liver failure
  • He lost his polar bear companion, GeeBee, in January
  • He spent months grieving for her and shunned food
  • The Johannesburg Zoo he's called home for 28 years euthanized him Wednesday

(CNN) -- The last polar bear in Africa died Wednesday after months of grieving his longtime companion at a zoo in Johannesburg, a far cry from his Arctic habitat.

Wang, 28, suffered from chronic arthritis and liver failure.

The Johannesburg Zoo, where he had been a major attraction since he was a cub, put him down for health reasons.

The chief veterinarian "had to make a very tough decision," the zoo said in a statement after his death.

The furry giant spent his last days pining for GeeBee, his polar bear partner of 28 years, who died of a heart attack in January.

Wang, left, and GeeBee had spent their days together since they were cubs. GeeBee died of a heart attack in January.
Wang, left, and GeeBee had spent their days together since they were cubs. GeeBee died of a heart attack in January.

GeeBee and Wang had spent their days together at the zoo since they were 6 months old. It was a notable friendship -- polar bears tend to be solitary animals.

After her death, Wang walked around listless and shunned food and swimming, the latter a favorite pastime with GeeBee.

To distract him from his heartbreak so he could eat and improve his health, the zoo coaxed him with special treats and showered him with toys.

For Valentine's Day this year, zoo officials brought Wang a box filled with fruit and meat, and decorated it with love hearts and a note that said, "We Love You Wang!"

After his companion\'s death, Wang lost interest in food and shunned swimming, his favorite pastime.
After his companion's death, Wang lost interest in food and shunned swimming, his favorite pastime.

Companies also showered him with toys and gifts, including an offer of a snow machine in the hopes that it might excite the animal long associated with subzero temperatures.

But Wang had lived his entire life in a warm climate, and a sudden change in environment would be fatal for his advanced age, the zoo said at the time.

In the wild, polar bears barely make it past 20 years, said Agnes Maluleke, the carnivore curator for the Johannesburg Zoo.

Wang was born at a Japanese zoo, and GeeBee came from Canada after both were swapped for lions. The two met at the Johannesburg Zoo in 1986.

They did not breed because polar bears' reproduction is stimulated by cold weather, Maluleke said.

The zoo has no plans to replace the polar bears.

READ: Wang, Africa's last polar bear, heartbroken over death of companion

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