ANIMAL STORIES

Tahi the Kiwi

Tahi was a wild kiwi that lived in the Auckland region until he was caught in a gin trap in July 2005. He was taken to the Whangarei Bird Recovery centre before being flown to Massey University Wildlife Ward for treatment. X-rays showed that he had a compound leg fracture and his leg was pinned. In November 2005, due to an infection and further complications, his leg was amputated.

After his leg had healed he came to live at Wellington Zoo as an advocate for his species, as his chance of survival in the wild is unlikely.

Kiwi are unable to breed with only one leg (balance complications) so we investigated having a prosthetic leg made for him. Weta Workshop helped us out by making a perfect positive and negative cast of his leg, and the New Zealand Artificial Limb Centre made his prosthesis.

Tahi walked well with his artificial leg, but it soon became apparent to his keepers that he was more comfortable without it. Now, Tahi is the most famous one-legged kiwi in the world. He has had a book written about him – Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi – and he has appeared on television and in magazines all over the world.

Sean the Sun Bear

Born in the wild, Sean the Sun Bear was found outside a store in the Kampuchea region in 1996.  He was initially rescued along with three other bears by an Australian businessman, John Stephens, who was working in Cambodia. However, when work required he return to Australia, he contacted Mary Hutton, who was running the ‘Free the Bears Fund’ – the forerunner of Free the Bears. At the time, this was a fundraising organisation, and Mary arranged for Sean and the other three bears to be relocated to zoos in Australia. The money raised by the relocation was enough for Free the Bears to open a small sanctuary in Phnom Tamao, Cambodia – now the largest Sun Bear sanctuary in the world.

After his rescue, Sean lived at Perth Zoo for six years, before being relocated to Wellington Zoo in 2004 as part of the regional Malayan Sun Bear breeding programme. Before Sean’s arrival, Wellington Zoo was the only zoo in Australasia that had successfully bred Sun Bears. As a wild born bear, his genetics brought new DNA into the region. At this time, Wellington Zoo was home to Chomel the Sun Bear, and the two were paired to breed.

Sean definitely showed interest in mating, but initial attempts were unsuccessful. Keepers worked on medical training techniques with Sean in order to examine him and figure out what could be done. This allowed them to determine that his penis sheath was causing issue, potentially due to some sort of injury. The vet team conducted surgery to mend this, and not long after, Chomel became pregnant. 

Sean and Chomel’s cub, Sasa, was born at Wellington Zoo in 2006. Chomel and Sasa were kept separately from Sean, as generally Sun Bears are solitary creatures. However, after Chomel died from a stroke in 2009, Sasa and Sean were slowly introduced and are now housed together. The two bears are often seen playing with one another and enjoying the odd wrestling match.

Today, Sean is a laid back character who definitely enjoys his food. When not lazing around enjoying the sun, Sean will happily take food off Sasa, who generally does the hard work in working with enrichment toys to find the hidden treats. Unsurprisingly, Sasa can get quite stroppy in response, but Sean takes it all in stride.  

Sun Bears are under threat both directly and indirectly from human activities. One of the major issues they face in the wild is deforestation. One thing that our community can do to support sustainable forestry is to purchase sustainable timber from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and/or New Zealand timber. When buying paper products, look for the FSC logo to ensure you are supporting sustainable forestry – looking out for the habitats of our world’s precious wildlife.

To learn more about Free the Bears and the projects they run, visit the Free the Bears website.