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 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 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; Chomel had twins, Arataki and Madu. 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 successfully.
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 laidback 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 Free the Bears website.