Africa’s last polar bear is depressed

BY Robert Pursell  February 28, 2014 at 7:15 PM EST

Zookeepers at the Johannesburg Zoo in South Africa have been working diligently in an effort to cheer up Wang — the last polar bear on the African continent.

According to zoo staff, the 29-year-old male bear has been suffering from symptoms of depression since the death of his longtime partner bear Geebee in January. Workers fear the combination of stress from the passing of Geebee with the summer heat waves of South Africa could ultimately lead to the demise of Wang, who is nearing the end of life expectancy for a polar bear.

Despite polar bears’ normal tendencies to live individually, Wang and Geebee were best friends — due in large part to the fact that they had been together since infancy, when they were relocated simultaneously to the Johannesberg Zoo in 1985. When Geebee was found dead in the pool of their enclosure of apparent heart failure on January 13, Wang took her death harshly according to workers at the zoo. Wang tore up the toys and grass in his enclosure, bent the steel door of his pad, barely ate his food rations and stayed awake during the night, guarding the body of his deceased partner and choosing to stay out in the sun rather than enter his room.

To combat this post-mortem depression, workers have encouraged Wang to play with his food; hiding dog biscuits in his toys and freezing apples and fish into chunks of ice for Wang to chip apart and eat. On Valentine’s Day, keepers wrote “We love you Wang” on a cardboard box filled with treats — including a heart-shaped beef steak — and gave it to Wang as a gift. Despite the nominal success of these efforts, Katja Koeppel, the zoo’s manager of veterinary services, says Wang continues to miss his dearly departed friend.

“Wang is pining for Geebee,” Koeppel told the Wall Street Journal, “and is understandably very stressed.”