For 21 years, Tongki the polar bear spent his days inside a concrete pit.
In the summer months, the tropical heat was so intense that the arctic bear rarely moved. Every day, he was stared down at by noisy zoo visitors and had nowhere to escape their constant picture taking.
He was the only surviving polar bear in South Korea and was about to be transferred to a sanctuary — until he was found lifeless in his enclosure on Oct. 17.
It would have been just days until he went to a British wildlife park, where he would have enjoyed cool temperatures, snow and ice. But the 24-year-old bear couldn’t hold on any longer.
Tongki lived at Everland, a theme park in South Korea that contains a zoo, which was long-criticized by animal advocates for keeping the bear in unsuitable living conditions. Jiyoung Lee, of the group Action for Animals, strongly advocated for Tongki, and spoke with The Dodo in 2015 about his state at the time.
In addition to local advocates, thousands of people online signed petitions urging the zoo to relocate Tongki to a sanctuary, or at the least, a zoo that could provide a more appropriate climate for him. In addition to being lethargic in the hottest months, Tongki also had algae growing on his fur from the extreme humidity.
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