The last living polar bear in South Korea has passed away at the age of 24 — equivalent to 80 years old in human years — at Everland Zoo, just weeks shy of being relocated to Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England.
The bear, Tongki, was born in South Korea in 1995 and moved to Everland Zoo in 1997 where he was raised by a group of zookeepers in a relatively confined space. Tongki was set to retire and relocate to Yorkshire where he would have been free to roam the 10 acre reserve with 25.5 million gallons of water and other polar bears.
The zookeepers, who had raised the bear for 15 years, patiently prepared Tongki for the long journey ahead and were counting down the days when they could see him happily retire. Sadly, Tongki passed away just one month before the scheduled trip, leaving netizens and zookeepers shocked and heartbroken.
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The head zookeeper in charge of Tongki was seen grieving saying, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do better” and repeatedly crying, “I’m sorry” as he fell to the floor upon entering the bear’s former enclosure, overwhelmed with sorrow.
As visitors and zoo employees left bouquets of flowers for Tongki, netizens joined them in their grief as some criticized the Everland Zoo for not releasing the bear sooner:
“It hurts my heart to see the zookeeper cry like that… Tongki, I hope you’re in a happier place now. We’ll meet in the next life”
“He should be retired earlier so he could enjoy his life at old age. Too bad, I really feel sorry for him.”
“I hope you can finally rest in a place with no concrete floors… we’ll miss you”
“It’s heartbreaking that he was forced to live in a zoo because of human greed… but it also breaks my heart to see the zookeeper in so much pain”