A beloved 21-year-old female polar bear at SeaWorld San Diego has passed away, the company announced Tuesday.
Szenja, who has been with SeaWorld for 20 years, unexpectedly passed away in her habitat.
The polar bear made headlines in March when tens of thousands signed an online petiton asking SeaWorld San Diego not to separate Szenja from her "best friend" snowflake. The pair had been living together for 20 years. In the end, SeaWorld San Diego transported Snowflake to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for a breeding visit.
Over the past week, caregivers and veterinary staff noticed a loss of appetite and energy in Szenja.Staff monitored her condition, but even so, her passing was unexpected, SeaWorld said. A necropsy will be performed to help determine the cause of death.
Szenja was born in Germany at the Wuppertal Zoo in October 1995. She later came to San Diego when the park opened its Wild Arctic exhibit in 1997.
“Szenja was a beloved member of our animal family, so this is a very difficult day for all of us,” said Al Garver, SeaWorld San Diego’s vice president of zoological operations, in a statement. “Szenja not only touched the hearts of those who have cared for her over the last two decades, but also the millions of guests who had the chance to see her in person. We’re proud to have been a part of her life and to know that she inspired people from around the world to want to protect polar bears in the wild.”
In a statement, PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Remain said Szenja died of a broken heart.
"After losing her companion of 20 years when SeaWorld shipped Snowflake to the Pittsburgh Zoo in order to breed more miserable polar bears, Szenja did what anyone would do when they lose all hope, she gave up. This should be a wake-up call to SeaWorld: Stop breeding and shipping animals around, close the animal exhibits, and retire the animals to sanctuaries," Remain said in the statement. "Until it does, this ship will keep sinking."
Throughout her life, Szenja helped enhance awareness of polar bears for the tens of millions of guests that visited SeaWorld, SeaWorld said.
In addition, she participated in various research studies related to polar bears' hearing sensitivity, social habits, reproductive hormones and more.
Most polar bears live between 15 and 18 years in the wild, and some live between 20 and 30 years, according to Polar Bears International. The animals are threatened by climate change, poaching, pollution and a rapid loss of sea ice in the wild.