Darkle the bear, Canberra zoo's last original animal, has died
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Darkle the bear, Canberra zoo's last original animal, has died

Canberra's zoo is mourning the loss of one of its oldest residents, Darkle the brown bear, who survived early years in a circus before coming to the National Zoo and Aquarium among its first animals almost 20 years ago.

In a statement on Thursday night, the zoo confirmed Darkle's health had been deteriorating for the past few weeks and a decision was made to euthanise the elderly bear.

Darkle the brown bear, who was the last of the original animals which helped establish Canberra's zoo.

Darkle the brown bear, who was the last of the original animals which helped establish Canberra's zoo.Credit:Rohan Thomson

"The welfare of our animals is always the priority and the difficult decision was made to ease her of any pain or discomfort," the statement read.

The zoo's founder Richard Tindale stumbled across Darkle and two other bears at a facility housing retired circus animals in 2000. The enclosure was not tall enough for them all to stand up straight.

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The bears, along with two lions, a tiger, two rare tigons and a pair of leopards, became the zoo's first residents. While they each bore the scars of their lives in the circus ring, staff said they shed their behavioural problems early on.

Darkle was the last surviving member of that original cohort.

"As sad as we felt, and now feel, when we lost each of those animals, we remember where they came from and the life they lived here," the statement read.

"Without exception, every one of them enjoyed a very long and healthy retirement here."

For Darkle, that retirement included briefly becoming something of an internet sensation when comedian Bill Bailey featured her in a video from his stay at the zoo's Jamala Wildlife lodge.

Tucking into a dinner of watermelon and celery, the bear kept the performer company on the last night of his Australian tour in December 2016.

On Thursday, the zoo thanked those of its staff who had loved and cared for Darkle and asked the Canberra community to share their memories of the popular bear.

Brown bears can reach 20 to 30 years of age.

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs