A Malayan sun bear who came to Wellington Zoo more than a decade ago after being rescued on the back of a motorbike in Cambodia has died.

Sean the sun bear was euthanised today after recent deterioration in his health.

The 22-year-old bear's health was being closely monitored over the last few months, senior vet Baukje Lenting said.

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

Advertisement

"The welfare of our animals is of paramount importance, so the difficult decision to euthanise him was made.

Animal care manager Jo Richardson said Sean had been "much loved" by Wellington Zoo staff and visitors over the past 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.

He was rescued from outside a shop in Cambodia almost 21 years ago when an Australian businessman found him chained up in Phnom Penh and took him away 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 came 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.

Sean and his daughter Sasa are the only bears in New Zealand. Photo / Wellington Zoo
Sean and his daughter Sasa are the only bears in New Zealand. Photo / Wellington Zoo

"Wellington Zoo is home to the only bears in New Zealand, and our sun bears are very special to the people of Wellington," Richardson said.

"Sean has helped so many people find a connection with sun bears and to understand the threats these animals face in the wild.

"By choosing sustainable wood and paper products with the Forestry Stewardship Council logo we know that we're helping to look after his wild relatives as well."

Sasa the sun bear still lives at Wellington Zoo, and staff will be keeping a close eye on her over the next few weeks.

"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."

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.

Wellington Zoo has worked with Free the Bears for many years to help save wild Bears and their habitats.