A polar bear died suddenly at San Diego SeaWorld just weeks after her only companion was shipped away to take part in a breeding program.
Szenja, a 21-year-old polar bear, was found dead on Tuesday a week after keepers noticed she was lethargic and not eating properly.
The amusement park’s only other polar bear, another female named Snowflake, was sent away to Pittsburgh zoo at the end of February. The pair had been kept together in the enclosure since the park opened in 1997.
At the time thousands of activists signed a petition asking for them not to be separated, saying the move was cruel and unnecessary, given that 60 per cent of polar bear cubs born in captivity die.
Snowflake was sent to Pittsburgh for breeding purposes once before, in 2014, but on that occasion Szenja traveled with her.
In a statement to NBC San Diego, she added: ‘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.
‘Until it does, this ship will keep sinking.’
A spokesman for SeaWorld said keepers had noticed a change in Szenja’s behavior and were monitoring her, but her death came as a shock.
Al Garver, SeaWorld San Diego’s vice president, said: ‘Szenja was a beloved member of our animal family, so this is a very difficult day for all of us.
‘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.’