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Ocean Park staff with Rose, a harbour seal, who underwent a successful operation to remove cataracts on her right eye last year. Photo: Bruce Yan

Two seals, including newborn, die at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park while red panda breaks into giant panda enclosure in trio of incidents

Management says it did not inform the public of the deaths and panda escape earlier because it was still ‘gathering information’


Two seals, including a newborn, have died at Ocean Park in two separate incidents in less than a week, a spokeswoman for the marine theme park confirmed last night.

A red panda also escaped its enclosure and entered a neighbouring enclosure, home to the park’s two resident giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le.

A newborn spotted seal died on Thursday shortly after it was born when its mother, Qiao Niu, accidentally knocked her baby into the water.

READ MORE: Jessie, Ocean Park’s oldest dolphin, dies aged 44

A necropsy, the animal equivalent of an autopsy, revealed that the baby seal’s lungs did not have enough time to inflate before it was thrown into the water so it was unable to breathe and died.

The baby seal did not drown, the park said.

Suzanne Gendron, the park’s executive director of zoological operations and education, said security cameras showed that Qiao Niu was asleep when she started to give birth.

Gendron said the mother seal appeared startled when she woke up and unknowingly knocked her baby into the water.

A park spokeswoman said Qiao Niu had not shown any signs of distress or illness after the death of her baby. It was the first incident of its kind, the spokeswoman added.

READ MORE: Ocean Park prices to rise in 2016 after shocking profit result, but Hongkongers get two-months grace

In a separate incident, a male harbour seal named Donut, aged seven, died on Monday when it suffered complications during surgery to remove cataracts.

A spokeswoman confirmed that Donut, who was born in captivity, died due to anaesthesia complications which led to heart failure.

A necropsy and histopathology tests which examine the seal’s tissue will be conducted.

The park said it had performed 49 anaesthesia procedures on seals since 2006 and this was the first death as a result of the procedure.

Last year, the park conducted a successful cataract removal for another harbour seal.

READ MORE: Successful cataract removal gives Hong Kong’s Ocean Park mammal a new lease of life

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has been notified of both incidents.

Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, questioned the park’s capabilities to raise seals in captivity and suspected the deaths may have involved negligence on the part of the park’s staff.

Hung said he did not understand why the park did not provide 24-hour monitoring of the pregnant spotted seal, especially when she was due to give birth in the coming weeks.

This close monitoring of expectant mothers was a process the park usually had in place for dolphins, he said.

Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Dolphin Conservation Society, holds the skull of a bottlenose dolphin in his office in Kwun Tong. Photo: Nora Tam

Meanwhile, one of the three red pandas kept in the “Amazing Asian Animals” section of the park managed to escape its own enclosure and sneak into a neighbouring one, home to the park’s resident giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le.

The spokeswoman said both the giant pandas were not in the enclosure when the red panda broke in and that it later returned to its own enclosure.

One of the red pandas at Ocean Park escaped its own enclosure and broke into a neighbouring enclosure where two giant pandas usually reside. The red panda later returned to its own enclosure. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The spokeswoman said there was no chance the red panda could escape and that the park would look at how to improve its partitions.

When the spokeswoman was asked why the park had not made public disclosures about the two seal deaths and red panda incident until after they were revealed in the media, she said it was because management was still gathering information.

The park has been plagued by a series of incidents in recent months.

On February 4, just days before the start of the Year of the Monkey, a golden snub-nosed monkey - one of three on loan to Ocean Park from Chengdu Zoo - died after a general anaesthesia procedure.

READ MORE: Endangered primate Hu Hu dies after medical procedure at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park as Year of the Monkey looms

Hu Hu, a five-year-old female monkey, woke up from the general anaesthesia, but suffered an unexpected cardiopulmonary arrest during recovery and could not be revived.

Hu Hu (right), a golden snub-nosed monkey, died after a general anaesthesia procedure earlier this month. Photo: Sam Tsang

The monkey was put under the anaesthesia procedure so it could have its right shoulder examined, after it failed to respond to pain medication earlier this month.