Debby is seen in her enclosure in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo in December 2006, during celebrations of her 40th birthday.

Tributes and remembrances of Debby, who was the world's oldest living polar bear, flooded into the Winnipeg zoo on Tuesday after officials announced the bear was dead.

The 42-year-old polar bear was born in the Russian Arctic in 1966 and came to Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo as an orphan a year later. The bear's health had been failing in recent months and she was euthanized Monday as her organs began to fail.

Debby gave birth to six offspring with her mate, Skipper, who died in 1999 at age 34. All her cubs are still alive.

Few polar bears reach age 20 years in the wild, but many have survived into their early 30s in captivity.

Earlier in 2008, at age 41, Debby entered the Guinness Book of World records as the oldest living polar bear. At 42, she was within the top three record-holders for longevity among all eight species of bears, the zoo said.

The zoo's co-ordinator, Dr. Gordon Glover, said it was a difficult decision to put Debby to sleep. But after 24 years as her vet, Glover knew her quality of life was over.

He said he is now hearing from some of the 18 million people who visited Debby during her four decades at the zoo.

"We've had people enquire from all around the world," he said. "From France and from the States and my e-mail is full. Everybody's e-mail is full here in the zoo. It just goes to indicate how renowned she was within the zoo community, and with the public. We're receiving calls from the public all over Canada."

It could take years for the zoo to acquire a new polar bear, since the current bear enclosure is not up to provincial standards and the waiting lists for bear cubs for zoos are long.

Meanwhile, Debby's life will be celebrated with a ceremony on Saturday at noon at the zoo's Animal Tracks Café.