The Head of Veterinary Services at Assiniboine Park Zoo is speaking out after a polar bear died over the weekend.

Eli, a two-year-old polar bear, died unexpectedly Saturday.

Zookeepers noticed on Friday that he wasn’t acting quite like himself.

“He was eating, but not with as much gusto as he would normally show. He was interactive, but just not as bright as he normally would be,” said Dr. Chris Enright, head of veterinary services.

That’s when zookeepers started working with veterinarians to come up with a course of treatment. When Eli was checked again on Saturday, he had gotten worse.

Enright said he was duller, less interactive, and didn’t have much of an appetite.

“We needed to get a physical exam, pull blood samples, do all the testing to figure out exactly what was going on, and then address it.”

Right from the start of anesthesia, Enright said Eli experienced difficulty breathing, and ultimately died.

At this point, he said it doesn’t appear Eli suffered a reaction to the anesthesia.

“It seems to have been a significant underlying condition he had prior to the anesthesia that caught up with him as the drugs were taking effect,” said Enright.

Eli was 11 months old when he arrived at the zoo. It was in November 2015, along with his brother, after their mother was killed in Churchill, Man.

Enright said coming to the zoo was a second chance at life for the cub.

“He grew up with other bears. He showed normal bear behaviour in his time here, and what he did is really, he built connections.”

Those with connections to Eli are still coming to terms with his death.

A full pathology report will be completed in the coming weeks, which may provide more information.

Visitors like Kathy Leek said it’s sad to hear one of the zoo animals passed away, but she thinks the risks for animals in the wild are probably greater than those in captivity.

“They’re at least being taken care of, and have vets and things looking after them. So, it happens, so there’s nothing you can do about it, but maybe they’ll learn something that’ll help some of the other ones,” Leek said.

Typically, polar bears in the wild can live into their early twenties, while those in captivity can live between 25 to 35 years old. In the past, the Assiniboine Park Zoo had a polar bear that lived into her forties.

At this point, Enright said there is no concern for the other polar bears or animals at the zoo.