Goodbye sweet, sweet Roops

Anyone who has ever met Rupert has a favourite story about him to share – and they came in thick and fast throughout last night and today, after an email went out to let our team know that it was now time for us all to say goodbye. Such is the love for a bear that soaked it all in, and adored being adored for the past 10 years.

Arriving with our very first group of bears in October 2000, Rupert was very soon diagnosed with brain damage resulting from the “free-drip” method of bile extraction, causing severe infection in his abdomen, which then travelled up and damaged his brain. A dear, sweet-natured bear who seemed happy and contented, but walked and reacted to things slowly, ate clumsily and was markedly different to all the other bears. Over the years, if a new bear came in who seemed “not quite right” in terms of mental health, our vet team invented a new diagnosis – and simply called him or her a “bit Ruperty”, and everyone knew what they meant.

Still, Rupert lived a contented and very happy life in his “Secret Garden”, until he recently began deteriorating in mobility and, despite a regime of different drugs and medications, I think we all knew that his time had come. Vet Jen, had called me when I was on site in Vietnam – saying that the final round of drugs would be trialled for just two more days, and that she wouldn’t want to go into another weekend if his response was poor. And so it was, that I caught the flight earlier than planned to Chengdu, to say goodbye to both a very special bear, and a neighbour who had lived next door to my room at the sanctuary.

During the flight over, memories came flooding back – and always ones with a smile. Rupert was the original creator of what we call the “bear splat”.... lying down in the most uncomfortable places, belly down as he slept. Today, we see bear splats all across the sanctuary – but none have ever been a patch on his.

Then of course there was his friendship with Franzi – and where do we start with that? Their first introduction several years ago was hardly a match made in heaven. Forever immortalised by Crocodile Man, Steve Irwin (rest in peace) as a hot little tart, 30-year-old Franzi was particularly choosy about her friends, and decided that Rupert wasn’t for her at all.

He was neither happy nor unhappy with this rejection and despite the fact that he was about three times her size, it was clear just who was the dominant bear. So Rupert continued on with his life, plodding happily around their secret garden, carefully avoiding his elderly companion as the months went on............ until the memorable day when I was strolling on site with UK supporter, lovely Anna and Brian Harrison, luckily with camera in hand, and came across this surprising and very sordid scene.

From that moment on Rupert and Franzi were inseparable – although it has to be said that she took the upper hand and very quickly decided just how “useful” Rupert could be. Throughout the summer and autumn she would rule the roost, giving him well-aimed thwacks if he came too close when she didn’t want to socialise or play, and stealing the very nicest morsels literally from under his nose. Come winter, when the weather became cold, she always had a big change of heart and decided that this bear-sized hot-water bottle would do very nicely, thank you, and cuddled up next to him keeping her tiny body warm. Spring then saw her flirting outrageously with him again, before the summer arrived once more and she was back to being her normal bossy self. 

Sometimes in the evenings I saw them lying out in the straw pit together and laughed out loud when more than once he proved his lack of social graces, by clambering awkwardly over her body when he wanted to go back inside the den. She took all this in her stride and just looked towards the camera on one such occasion, with nothing but disdain for this ridiculously clumsy bear walking all over her face.

Franzi passed away last November, and although Rupert was fine, it did seem that some of the light had perhaps gone out in his heart. Now, on this last morning of his life, staff are coming into the special-care area to say one final goodbye and emails are flooding in, with many making the point that our much loved “odd couple” will finally be together again. 

There’s no question that it’s time for him to leave – his ability to walk has quickly deteriorated and, apart from still loving his food, he really has no quality of life. As I tell him how much we’ll all miss him, he’s reaching up a paw and clawing at the hanging log in his den as if on a final mission. Minutes before Jen walks over to administer the first anaesthetic, Rupert gives one last tug and the log is down. And now, as he sleeps with his arm around his trophy, we remember again his determination to overcome every challenge his compromised brain tried to solve, and how he enjoyed every single minute of his very simple life. 

So, he leaves a family who adored him and thanks him for the years of indescribable joy that he and Franzi brought into our lives. We will all miss the sounds of his loving bear team calling him in every evening, or early in the morning when he had laid out under the stars and really wasn't ready to wake up just yet. I’d drop everything on hearing that familiar “Wuuuuuu Paaaaaaa” across the garden, and look out of the window to see him enjoying just a few snoozes more. The team’s grief is all too raw as they send some words for this blog: 

“Rupert brought a lot of fun to us all, even though he had mental problems. Usually he came back to the den when we called, but sometimes he would be naughty – ignoring us and playing with his tyre or playing hide-and-seek with us by burying himself in the straw. When the sad news arrived that it was time for him to go, we struggled, but knew that we had to let him go peacefully rather than living in pain. He will always be in our hearts.” Ma Jing, Gao Shi Wei, Kang Bin.

So simple, unassuming and so very, very kind, Rupert may have been our bear of little brain, but he was a friend, teacher and hero to us all.

And sharing just a few of the most perfect messages which sent our Rupert respectfully on his way at his burial yesterday – and leaves him now resting in peace next to his beloved Franzi, together again at last. 

Dear Rupert,
I will never forget the moment when you – not noticed by anyone around us – with your incredible soft and careful lips took a Gummibear from my fingers, showing me the most pink tongue I’ve ever seen and looking at me with calm and trusting eyes, promising me you would keep our secret safe. And you did. Because your heart is big and I am sure you shared a lot of secrets over the time…. Farewell and know we loved you so much…
Christa, Animals Asia Germany x

Hail Rupert, the simple king, who taught us so well that being simple is a state of perfection. Bruce, USA

It is believed that memory is a gift by which men can survive death. For this reason, we will take Rupert with us so that those which once were his very own weaknesses will become our strengths and the happiness we experienced in knowing him will overcame the loss. Rupert touched our souls from the beginning – thanks to him and his courage, we will all share the memory of a mission that one day we will accomplish. To those who loved him and cared for him, Rupert will show them the way.
Looking forward to meeting you again,

Carmen, Irene, Antonello and Giulia, Animals Asia Italy

Sleep well gentle, gorgeous Rupert. You were loved by all of us and secretly adored by Franzi too. Go and join her.
Love from Hayley XXXX (Vet nurse Chengdu September 2006 - December 2009) 

With the last words from his sponsor Anna, who, together with her dearly departed husband Neil, so generously adopted Rupert several years ago, and loved him well: 

I am absolutely devastated to hear about our darling Bear. For some reason, like you, I tended to think he was immortal. Nothing was ever going to happen to darling, sweet, sweet Roops. Its true, the happiness we experienced in knowing him will help overcome our loss. He will never be forgotten and he will also take a piece of my heart with him.

“Only another breath will I breathe in this still air, only another loving look cast backward, then I will hear voices calling my name and shouting from field to field telling one another of my coming.”
Rest in Peace beautiful Rupert you will stay in out hearts forever. Neil will be there waiting for you.
All my love,

Anna xx

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