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Chester Zoo welcomes sun bears for first time in 40 years

Saved from poaching the bears called Milli and Toni take up residence

Chester Zoo will be home to sun bears for the first time since 1976 as Milli and Toni arrive.

The zoo is welcome the eight-year-old female and 11-year-old male from the Rare Species Conservation Centre who received them during October 2013 to save them from poachers.

They were found in Cambodia as mistreated pets.

Once settled into their new home in Chester, zoo chiefs hope the bears will play an important role in the European breeding programme for the vulnerable species.

Related: See how the Chester Zoo Islands where the sun bears will live look

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals at the zoo, said: “Several years ago these bears were rescued by a conservation team from Free the Bears working in Cambodia. Toni, whose mother was killed by poachers, was seized from an illegal wildlife trader while Milli was being kept as a pet and was badly mistreated. Happily they are both now well on the way to recovery and we’re thrilled that we’ve been specially selected to work with them and continue with their care.

Steve Rawlins - Chester Zoo The Sun Bears in their new home at Chester Zoo
The Sun Bears in their new home at Chester Zoo

“The bears’ new home will very closely mimic the diverse habitats of their native South East Asia, giving them plenty of trees to climb and places where they can forage for fruits, berries and nuts. Hopefully they’ll quickly feel very settled here and will one day go on to have cubs.

“Sun bear numbers are unfortunately rapidly declining as a result of deforestation and poaching but we hope that with our new arrivals acting as fine ambassadors for the species, they’ll also help us to highlight the vital research and conservation efforts needed to protect the species in the wild.”

About sun bears

Sun bears are one of the world’s rarest species of bear and can be found in declining populations in Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, India, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Related: New spectacled bear arrives as part of breeding programme

However, the species is now thought to be extinct in Singapore and Yunnan, where they were once found in large numbers, and is on the edge of extinction in Bangladesh.

A combination of large-scale deforestation, legal and illegal logging and the conversion of natural forests to oil palm plantations has led to sun bears being classified as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The species is also illegally exploited for its body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicines – although scientific evidence has shown they have no medicinal value.

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David Holmes
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