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World's Oldest Polar Bear, 41, Dies

The world's oldest polar bear has died peacefully at a Canadian zoo, keepers said Tuesday, as tributes poured in from around the world.

A Winnipeg online chat site posted fond memories of the 41-year-old bear, calling her death "a great loss to the city."

Assiniboine Park Zoo co-ordinator Gordon Glover said the bear, Debby, was euthanized Monday after having several strokes and organ failure.

Her keepers and admirers laid flowers by her empty enclosure Tuesday as they tearfully remembered the majestic, gentle animal.

"Debby was a great bear," said Jos Gatien, the senior bear keeper who worked with her for 13 years. "She acted like a grumpy old bear a lot of times. It was great. She had a lot of life in her, a lot of feistiness."

Debby was born in the Arctic islands of Russia and came to Winnipeg a year later, in 1967.

She became a fixture at the zoo, outliving her mate Skipper and giving birth to six cubs. This year, she was recognized as the oldest living polar bear by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Most polar bears only live into their 30s in captivity and Debby was just one month shy of celebrating her 42nd birthday.

But Debby's longevity took its toll. She suffered a series of strokes which left her disoriented and with some facial paralysis.

Glover said her keepers were able to control the strokes with medication for the last two years but Debby started to deteriorate this summer. She stopped eating her normal diet of salty, savory food, preferring instead sweets and Popsicles.

When Debby lost her appetite completely over the weekend, zoo officials decided to put her down.

"It was very difficult. Debby has been a longtime member here at the zoo. She's been here longer than any of the employees. Everybody that works here has got to know her very well," said Glover.

Bob Sydor, who worked with Debby for the past five years, said she was playful right until the end.

The zoo is planning a memorial for Debby on Saturday.

Skipper, Debby's mate of 32 years, had his ashes scattered near Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson Bay when he died in 1999.

"She did come from Russia so there is an option of sending her back to Russia and having her scattered there too," said Sydor.

Robert Buchanan, president of Polar Bears International, said Debby's long life was a testament to the passion and care of her keepers.

"She was not only part of the Assiniboine Park but an Arctic ambassador of polar bears to the world," he said in a statement.

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