22 April 2014, 15:16PM
Our family in Chengdu is sad and depleted, following the loss of Banjo, one of our very beautiful and charismatic bears. Gently euthanised by Vet Jen, after he was found to have a large oesophageal mass from which he would never recover, Banjo is mourned by all in the team.
As Nic, our Vet and Bear Team Director explained: "His passing signifies another farewell to another legend. Respect, as always, to the team for caring for him so well and giving him a life worth living all these years and in his final months, weeks and days doing all they could to help him and ultimately let him go with dignity."
Banjo arrived in January 2001 as a young male, and was found to have one of the largest, and obviously most painful, gall stones that we had ever seen. Following its removal, Banjo was integrated with bears like Jasper, Aussie and Frank, with whom he built up a firm friendship that has lasted until this day. The girls in his house loved him too - particularly Sausage, as the picture of them snuggled together above clearly shows. This image has been a favourite of our supporters and absolutely adored by audiences around the world.
Often referred to as "The Penguin" in his early days, Banjo would waddle comically on his back legs for metres at a time in the outside enclosure, simply because he could. In later years, he adapted this unique stance inside the dens, and would often follow us from one end of the bear house to the other, using the bars for support. As anticipated, it certainly got our attention, and got him one or two illegal gummy bears from our pockets as a reward for his trouble too.
House 2 won't the be the same at night when we have groups there to see the bears asleep. Invariably one of the last to climb into his basket, he would pop up inquisitively at each den we visited, ignoring the whispered and joking reprimand to "go to bed". Banjo could often be found in the middle of "bear bundles" with his friends, in giddy piles of play that lasted for hours. His destruction of the tree protectors was legendary, and one picture earned him the honorary title of Ninja Bear. An innocent and iconic boy, who simply loved life, and was loved by bears and people alike throughout all his days.
Rocky, our Bear Team Supervisor, rememberes Banjo from when he first arrived in 2001, smiling at the memory of Banjo loving to sunbathe in the enclosure, and enjoying his dips in the pool. Similarly, another of our China staff, Liu Wen Juan, said that Banjo had eyes like a child, and loved to curl up with bears like Ginny in a cosy hanging basket bed, or play with his friends outside, leaving footprints in the grass as they tore around the enclosure together. Bear Team Leader, Tao, spoke sadly of the arrival of spring - with birds singing, flowers blooming and bears like Banjo slowly waking from their winter dormant patterns. Tao remembered Banjo as having the most handsome face of all the bears in House 2 - with a perfect weight, curly black fur, and a happy friendship with bears like Sausage who happily gave up the "nest" she'd built outside for her handsome bear friend. As Tao said: "Enjoying his life here this way, Banjo really had no reason not to feel happy, did he?"
Banjo was buried with his own tree protector, a garland of flowers around his head, and the respect of a team across the world who adored him.
Rest in peace Banjo, from your family who love you.
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