After 20 years at Alaska Zoo, polar bear Ahpun has died

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - After calling the Alaska Zoo her home for roughly two decades, Ahpun the polar bear has passed away, zoo officials said.

Photo courtesy John Gomes.

Ahpun was found lifeless by a zookeeper making their morning rounds at 9 a.m. early on the morning of Dec. 31. Right now, it is not certain what her cause of death is.

Patrick Lampi, the executive director of the zoo, said that she had been in great health and shown no signs of illness.

"We had no signs of her being sick," Lampi said.

A necropsy was performed on her body in an attempt to isolate the cause of death, however it did not identify any root cause. Her tissue will be sent for further analysis, Lampi said.

Lampi called the loss "heartbreaking," saying, "We're all very, very sad. We all watched Ahpun grow from a 30 pound cub into a big and beautiful 700 pound ambassador to her species."

Ahpun came to the Alaska Zoo in early 1998, after a resident of Point Lay brought her in as a tiny cub.

On that fateful day, the man that found Ahpun was returning home from fishing, when he happened across a polar bear den by accident, Lampi said.

Ahpun's mother charged the fisherman, and he shot her in self defense.

"She arrived March 31, 1998 as 31 pound orphan cub from Point Lay," Lampi said. "I got to see her grow up with Oreo, then she joined with Lyutyik, and she was this beautiful iconic ambassador for their species."

Ahpun and Oreo, a brown bear, famously lived together for several years. They finally had to be separated because Oreo became too aggressive with the polar bear.

Lyutyik, also called Louie, was brought to the zoo as a partner for Ahpun with the goal of the pair having a cub.

At the time of her death Ahpun had been living in a separate habitat, which was set up as a maternity area.

Despite zoo efforts to produce offspring she never had cubs.

Lampi and a handful of other zoo employees helped raise Ahpun. When he talked about the idea of her having a cub he said he would have been a grandfather.

"She was my favorite," Lampi said, "she was very playful as a young bear, not such a roughhouse as Oreo liked to be, next to you and leaning against you. She was always a nice, mellow, seemed to be well adjusted bear. Never got really agitated."

A birthday celebration for Ahpun was planned for Jan. 20 of this year, Lampi said it will now also be a memorial.

Channel 2's Rebecca Palsha contributed to this report.

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