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SeaWorld polar bear may have died of grief after same-sex partner moves

Szenja and Snowflake were inseparable for 20 years.
Photo credit:
52 Team - YouTube

SeaWorld San Diego was the home of same-sex polar bear partners Szenja, 21 and Snowflake, 22.

The two females had been partners in the same enclosure for the past 20 years. However in order to breed with other polar bears, Snowflake was transported to Pittsburg, leaving Szenja in extreme grief.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Vice President Tracy Remain told Yahoo News, “Szenja died of a broken heart, PETA believes. 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,”

After the separation Szenja grew anxious, lost her appetite and became reclusive.

Al Garver, SeaWorld’s vice president of zoological operations, says the loss is devastating both for the park and the patrons who have been following the polar bear couple for several years.

“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 a chance to see her in person,” he said. “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.”

SeaWorld does not believe that Szenja died of the symptoms PETA espouses. 

“SeaWorld and other accredited and world-class zoological facilities remain focused on our important mission of animal conservation and public education and inspiration,” David Koontz, president of SeaWorld San Diego, told The Huffington Post. “We will not be distracted by organizations with a clear anti-zoo agenda creating false narratives not grounded in any scientific fact.”

“It is well documented that adult polar bears are typically solitary animals, and Szenja was continually cared for and enriched by her dedicated and passionate animal care team."

He adds:  “She did not demonstrate any adverse behavioral changes following Snowflake’s transport to the Pittsburgh Zoo in February as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding visit. Unlike wild polar bears facing habitat loss, human encroachment and limited food sources, Szenja lived an long and enriching life at SeaWorld with the passionate and uncompromising care provided to her by her loving trainers, and made a positive impact on the tens of millions of park guests that had the chance to see her over the past 20 years.” 

In the groundbreaking book by Bruce Bagemihl called Biological Exuberance, he discusses over 450 species of mammals who exhibit homosexual bonding in the wild. 

"In most species the same courtship behaviors are used in both homosexual and heterosexual interactions," Bagemihl writes. "Sometimes, however, same-sex courtship involves only a subset of the movements and behaviors found in opposite-sex displays."

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include the quote from David Koontz, president of SeaWorld San Diego.