He may have been named after an iconic character in the Star Wars film franchise, but this Chewbacca was much smaller and a whole lot slower.
Chewbacca, a male sloth housed in the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Toucan Ridge, was found dead a week ago, the zoo said on Friday. Known by zoo staff as Chewy, the sloth was 25.
Charlene Berkvens, an associate zoo veterinarian, said staff found the animal dead in its enclosure before the facility opened on Jan. 5.
"We were all quite surprised to see him pass away so suddenly," Berkvens said Friday.
"He was eating and moving around fine the day before. He wasn’t sick for some time, like other animals are before they die.
"It was a shock."
Sloths are mammals native to Central and South America and spend their lives in the trees in tropical rainforests, only coming down to the ground once a week or so to relieve themselves.
Their slow metabolisms means they sleep up to 20 hours a day.
Chewbacca was a Linne’s two-toed sloth, native to South America.
According to its records, Chewbacca came to the Winnipeg zoo from Guyana in 1999, aged somewhere between four and six years old.
"He was fully grown when he arrived," Berkvens said.
"I don’t know whether it was because he was a sloth or not, but we always treated him like an old guy.
"Maybe it was because he had been here longer than most of the people here now."
She said sloths live about 20 to 30 years in the wild.
Chewbacca moved around a bit during his days in Winnipeg, spending time in the former Tropical House (now named Toucan Ridge) and the Down Under exhibit (built on the former Aunt Sally’s Farm location).
"He was our last sloth," Berkvens said.
"There was a female brought in two years ago, but she passed away not long after she got here... I imagine the zoo will be interested in getting another."
She said an initial autopsy has been done, and the zoo is waiting the results of lab tests to assess the cause of death.
Berkvens said she’ll miss Chewy.
"He was a really gentle guy," she said.
"He had a very laid-back personality — even for a sloth. Other sloths can be nervous, but he really liked being hand-fed."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.