City of Joburg

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo

Johannesburg Zoo


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JOHANNESBURG City Parks and Zoo, the custodians of biodiversity on behalf of the city, hereby announces the loss of one of its two polar bears at the Joburg Zoo. The remaining polar bear; Wang is unsettled and is in mourning on the loss of his partner Geebee who passed on Sunday evening, 12 January 2014.

Manager of Veterinary Services at the Joburg Zoo, Dr Katja Koeppel said 29-year old Geebee began medical treatment for diarrhoea last week. "At first she responded well to the treatment but after a few days rejected further medication. Early on Monday morning during routine checks we discovered that she had passed away. It is suspected this is due to natural courses relative to age.  At 29 years old polar bears are considered 'old' for their species," said Dr Koeppel. Conclusive post mortem results will be available by Monday, 20 January 2014.

Geebee was born on 27 February 1985 and brought to the Joburg Zoo along with Wang in 1986. Geebee was part of a partnership programme with Interzoo in Quebec Canada and Wang is from the Sapporo Zoo in Japan.

"Wang is pining for Geebee and is understandably very stressed. They were together for almost 30 years and developed a close bond with one another. We will be monitoring him closely and will ensure that he is kept busy by providing him with additional toys, treats and behaviour enrichment activities to try to mitigate the stress," added Dr Koeppel.

Since Geebee's death Wang has displayed unusual behaviour and has been to some levels, destructive and restless. Anticipated loss of appetite and constant pacing in his enclosure is expected as well.  Veterinary staff has assured the general public that he will be closely monitored to ensure his continued wellbeing due to his failing health as well.

"We will receive results of blood tests taken from Wang by the beginning of next week but generally, he seems to be in good health considering that he has a chronic liver ailment," said Dr Koeppel

Wang was diagnosed in November 2010 with liver failure and has been successfully undergoing treatment ever since.

Dr Koeppel explained that the Joburg Zoo will not be replacing Geebee. She said that despite polar bears being highly adaptive, Johannesburg's climatic conditions are not ideal for breeding purposes. "They adapt really well to different conditions however will not breed in warmer climates as they require low temperatures to ovulate, so from a conservation perspective replacing Geebee with another polar bear does not make sense. Polar bears are solitary animals and Geebee and Wang tolerated one another because they were brought in together as juveniles. Polar bears are terribly territorial, and introducing another polar bear into the enclosure may be risky," she added.

The Joburg Zoo provides world class veterinary and nutritional care for all its animals with post-mortems done on all animals to ascertain the cause of death and to obtain tissue samples for bio-banking at the gene bank with the National Zoo in Pretoria.

The Joburg Zoo houses animals from around the world boasting a collection of 365 species. The collection comprises of the 7 classes of animals: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and arachnids with 26 endangered species housed at the Zoo. The Zoo plays an integral role in numerous conservation programmes and projects including supporting the Southern Ground Hornbill programme, the Wattled Crane breeding project and Picker's gill frogs as well as rhino and vulture conservation efforts. The Zoo has also sent red pandas to Zoos around the world as part of the international stud book in red pandas.

Dr. Koeppel has worked at the Joburg Zoo for the past seven years, first as the associate veterinarian and currently as the head veterinarian. She has been treating exotic and wildlife cases since 2002 on her arrival in South Africa. Dr Koeppel completed a Masters degree at the University of Pretoria in 2004 with distinction, her said Master's thesis looked at the use of probiotics in cheetahs. In addition Dr. Koeppel has completed a doctorate in veterinarian
medicine from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and was awarded with distinctions stemming from her research in tuberculosis in the greater kudu antelope. Dr. Koeppel has also completed a certificate in Zoological Medicine with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the United Kingdom. She has been invited to teach and treat wild animals in Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil and Jordan and has presented cases at several international conferences over the years. The Joburg Zoo veterinary hospital currently serves as learning institution to both South African and International students.

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Issued on behalf of:
Mr Bulumko Nelana
Managing Director
Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo

For media enquiries please contact:
Jenny Moodley
082 803 0748