years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
Swine flu grounds Jill Robinson at China bear sanctuary
Founder of Animals Asia calls for action on animal-related human-health issues
Animals Asia’s founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE, has been grounded at her organisation’s Chengdu moon bear sanctuary after a passenger on her flight from Hong Kong to Chengdu on Tuesday morning tested positive for swine flu.
Health officials arrived at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, Sichuan Province shortly before 3am yesterday morning (Wednesday) to tell Ms Robinson that the male passenger sitting directly behind her on Dragonair flight KA820 had been confirmed as carrying the H1N1 virus – and that she should stay quarantined for seven days.
Ms Robinson said today (Thursday): “There’s a certain irony in this. Animals Asia is working to close down disease-ridden live-animal markets and bear bile farms, with all their associated human-health risks, and here I am caught up in the swine flu pandemic, which some reports suggest originated on a pig farm.
Regarding the Chinese authorities’ handling of the current situation, Ms Robinson had nothing but praise. “It’s a bit frustrating being quarantined, especially as I’m fighting fit and my temperature’s a very normal 36.6. But the authorities are taking the right precautions and putting the safety of their citizens first,” she said.
“What I don’t understand is why the government doesn’t also act in regard to other human health risks associated with animals – for instance, the consumption of diseased cats and dogs from filthy markets, and the consumption of putrid bile taken from chronically ill bears. We have been warning the Chinese authorities about these issues for years, and even have the backing of traditional Chinese medicine doctors and medical consultants in China and Vietnam,” Ms Robinson said.
She said Dr Wang Sheng Xian, a Chengdu pathologist, had raised serious concerns about the consumption of bear bile, which is contaminated with pus, blood, faeces and urine – and often the bears have liver cancer. “Animals Asia has passed on Dr Wang’s concerns and the findings of our own vet team to the relevant government departments, but still nothing is being done to stop the trade. The health authorities really have to ask themselves what such filthy bile and filthy cat and dog meat is doing to the health of the people that consume it.
“At the very least, they should warn people not to consume bear bile and not to eat dogs and cats. This is something they could do straight away. It would cost nothing, but could save many lives and certainly would save many millions of dollars in health costs.”
Toby Zhang, Animals Asia’s Director of External Affairs China, said Jill’s quarantine brought home the urgent need for the government to tackle other animal-related health issues. “These are time bombs just waiting to go off,” Mr Zhang said. “Guangzhou’s notorious live-animal markets are breeding grounds for disease, as are dog-meat breeding facilities, where parvovirus, canine distemper, leptospirosis and rabies can spread so easily.
“Cats arrive at market infested with fleas and ringworm, with mucous weeping from their eyes and noses and their fur encrusted in faeces and hair falling out. Both cats and dogs are transported in trucks to markets in southern China, often for four or five days, crammed together in tiny cages.”
Mr Zhang said these animals were forced to lie in their own and others’ waste and vomit, with other sick – sometimes dead – animals. Many have infected, weeping sores from ‘cage rage’ – starving and dying of thirst, the animals lash out at each other. “I just don’t understand why the government allows this trade,” Mr Zhang said.
“On New Year’s Day, our Chengdu vet team offered to help deal with 149 dogs that had been confiscated by officials from a meat trader after complaints from local people. The condition of the dogs was absolutely appalling, with many suffering terribly from parvovirus, distemper and kennel cough. We tried our best to save them all, but in the end 102 were put to sleep. It is meat from such chronically diseased dogs (and cats) that is being served up at dinner tables and restaurants around China.”
Mr Zhang said the June dog cull in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province, which has seen up to 40,000 dogs brutally beaten to death in reaction to 12 human cases of rabies, was another case in point. “Animals Asia and other organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have repeatedly advised the authorities that the only way to contain stray-dog populations is to de-sex and vaccinate against rabies,” Mr Zhang said. “But still they allow local officials to implement knee-jerk dog culls, which do nothing to stop the spread of rabies, because other – possibly rabid – dogs will simply move into the area left vacant by the cull and breed.
“This is not just an animal-welfare issue – it’s a human-health issue as well. As a Chinese citizen, I feel proud that the authorities are handling the swine flu issue so efficiently and professionally, but I’m sad that they continue to turn a blind eye to – or even condone – animal-husbandry practices that are creating obvious health risks. It’s time to get serious about these issues before more people die,” Mr Zhang said.
Sichuan health officials will visit Ms Robinson in her studio flat at the bear sanctuary twice a day to check her temperature and that she remains virus-free. “I’ve been told that after four days, they will review the situation,” she said. “I’m not sure what that means, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to walk around the sanctuary wearing a mask for the rest of the quarantine period.