MANHATTAN — Gus, the beloved Central Park Zoo polar bear who famously swam in circles while mourning his mate, is dead.
The 27-year-old polar bear, who was left heartbroken after his mate, Ida, was euthanized for cancer in 2011, was euthanized Tuesday after zoo veterinarians discovered an inoperable tumor in his throat, zoo officials said.
Gus had been refusing to eat and had difficulty chewing and swallowing his food, officials said. During surgery to find out what was ailing the bear, vets discovered he had a thyroid tumor and opted to euthanize him.
Melba Antoine, a 50-year-old babysitter visiting the zoo with her 2-year-old charge, said she was saddened by Gus' passing.
"He always showed himself when people were around. He would stand up, swim around and show off. It's sad to know he's gone," Antoine said.
Gus had lived about seven years longer than a male polar bear's normal life expectancy, officials said.
"We were looking forward to seeing the polar bear and going to the zoo today," said Roxanne Goodon. "I'm shocked that it happened — but 27 years of age is a long life."
"As sad as it is, it's probably best for him that they euthanized him because you don't want him to suffer anymore and you don't want the children to see him suffering like that," she added.
Gus earned headlines in 2011 when he went into mourning for his mate, Ida, who was euthanized at age 25 to ease her suffering from cancer, officials said.
Gus was born in Ohio's Toledo Zoo and came to the Central Park Zoo in 1988 where an estimated 20 million people visited him during his time there, officials said.
"Gus was an icon at the Central Park Zoo and a great source of joy for our visitors and staff," said Jim Breheny, a vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which oversees the zoo.