ROYAL OAK (WWJ) – She was a loving mother, a former big top performer, and a favorite of Detroit Zoo staff and visitors since her rescue a decade ago.

Bärle, a 27-year-old female polar bear rescued from a circus nearly 10 years ago, was euthanized Wednesday after an exam revealed multiple tumors in her abdomen.

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Zookeepers reported changes in Bärle’s behavior over the past five days, including decreased appetite. Efforts were made to encourage her to eat – including providing her with favorite foods of cooked sweet potatoes and chicken – to no avail. During a veterinary exam Wednesday morning, the tumors were discovered and the difficult decision was made to humanely end her life.

Barle swimming (credit: Mark M. Gaskill, Phoenix Innovate)

Zoo officials say a necropsy later showed that the lymph nodes throughout her body were abnormal and enlarged due to cancer.

“We are very saddened by this loss,” said Scott Carter, Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer, in a media release. “Her death was unexpected and heartbreaking for the people who cared for her.”

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Bärle’s death leaves the Detroit Zoo with three polar bears at the Arctic Ring of Life exhibit – males Aquila, 19, and Nuka, 7, as well as Bärle’s daughter Talini, 7.

Bärle was born in the wild in Manitoba, Canada, but was captured as a cub and lived most of her years as a performing circus bear. She was rescued from the Suarez Brothers Circus in Puerto Rico and brought to the Detroit Zoo in 2002. She became a first-time mother in 2004, giving birth to Talini, her only offspring.

“Bärle came a long way from living in a tiny cage and performing circus tricks in an unhealthy environment to being a healthy, nurturing mother,” said Carter. “We are comforted to know that we were able to provide her sanctuary for all these years.”

The average longevity for polar bears is 15 to 18 years in the wild and 25 to 35 years in zoos.

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Barle and Talini in 2005 (credit: Betsie Meister, Detroit Zoological Society)