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Wellington Zoo’s Malayan Sun Bear Sean euthanised after his health slips

Wellington Zoo’s 22-year old Malayan Sun Bear, rescued in Cambodia almost 21 years ago, was euthanised today following recent deterioration of his health. 

Wellington Zoo's senior veterinarian Baukje Lenting said its animal care and veterinary teams have been closely monitoring the health of the bear, Sean, over the last few months.  

The bear was scheduled for a general anaesthetic today, to perform an operation on his eyes, an endoscopy and to check his kidney function - all areas where health problems had been identified, she said. 

"Once we’d done some initial diagnostics it was obvious that his multiple medical problems were compromising his welfare and affecting his quality of life. The welfare of our animals is of paramount importance, so the difficult decision to euthanise him was made," Ms Lenting said.

The zoo's animal care manager Jo Richardson said Sean has been much loved by the Wellington Zoo staff and visitors over the last 14 years. 

"He has been an advocate for his wild cousins and has helped us to share the story of his rescue in Cambodia and our work with our conservation partner, Free The Bears.” she said.

Sean was one of the earliest bear rescues for Free the Bears in Southeast Asia. An Australian businessman found Sean chained outside a shop in Phnom Penh in February 1997 and rescued him on the back of his motorbike. After keeping him for a short while at his house he worked with Free the Bears to find a suitable home for Sean’s long-term care.

Free the Bears and the Cambodian Department of Forests and Wildlife sent Sean and two rescued female bears to Perth Zoo in 1998 to establish a regional conservation breeding programme for Sun Bears. 

Sean then went to Wellington Zoo in 2004 to breed with the Zoo’s female bear Chomel. Their pairing was successful and Chomel gave birth to Sasa in 2006. At that time, Wellington Zoo was the only Zoo in Australasia that had successfully bred Sun Bears. 

Sasa the Sun Bear still lives at Wellington Zoo, and they will be keeping a close eye on her over the next few weeks, Ms Richardson said. 

"Sun Bears are naturally solitary animals so we believe she will be okay, however this will still be an adjustment for her after this big change in her environment,” she said. 

Sun Bears are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to extensive habitat loss in Southeast Asia and their use in traditional medicines.

Sean the Malayan Sun Bear at Wellington Zoo. Source: Supplied