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Death of a Worcester Polar Bear

Tuesday, June 14, 2011, 18:43 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

When I was a kid growing up in central Massachusetts, a favorite place to visit on school trips or outings with young friends was the Worcester Science Center. Among the notable things to see there were two polar bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. It was odd to watch two arctic creatures hanging out in Worcester on a hot New England summer day, but somehow their artificial habitat was modified to make it feel more normal for them.

In 1983, Ursa Minor birthed a cub who was named Kenda following a naming campaign that brought suggestions from around the world. The blessed event marked the first time a polar bear was born in New England. I can’t find the details online, but my recollection is that Kenda was a twin, the other of which died young. After a time, Ursa Major, Kenda’s father, was transferred from Worcester to the Stone Zoo north of Boston, where he died in 2000. Ursa Minor stayed in Worcester with her daughter and died in 2001. After her mother’s death, Kenda was the subject of an online petition to get her moved from the only home she had ever known (which had been renamed the EcoTarium), but ultimately she stayed in Worcester.

Kenda developed kidney disease last year, and yesterday she was euthanized. She was 27 years old, many years older than the typical life span of a polar bear in the wild, but not as old as her parents, who lived into their mid-30s.

Kenda, like her parents, was a novelty around here, sort of like the county’s pet. The local newspaper article reporting her death (free registration required) has been water cooler talk at the office. A follow-up article today included an interview with the woman who won the cub-naming contest back in the 1980s. I admit that I haven’t been to the EcoTarium since my own son was young (he’s now 26), but if I had known Kenda’s death was near, I’d have gone again.

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