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).
Lucky bears come ‘home’ to Animals Asia’s Jill Robinson
23 October 2009
Animals Asia’s founder Jill Robinson has been reunited with five bears she was instrumental in rescuing in China 13 years ago, including “Xie Sheung” (meaning “lucky”) – the iconic bear featured on Animals Asia’s logo.
Xie Sheung was among nine Asiatic black bears (or moon bears) rescued from a bile farm in Huizhou, Guangdong Province in 1995. Ms Robinson convinced the authorities to close down the farm and transfer the bears to a rescue facility in Panyu, Guangdong Province which she, Boris Chiao and Dr Gail Cochrane established in 1996 while working as consultants for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Their involvement with the Panyu bears continued even after Animals Asia was founded in 1998.
“Animals Asia and IFAW cared for these bears jointly until 2004, when IFAW assumed sole responsibility, which then enabled us to concentrate fully on expanding our own sanctuary in Chengdu,” she said today.
Over the years, four of the bears have died and the remaining five have grown old and in need of more specialised geriatric care. So IFAW and Animals Asia decided to move them to Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu, which can provide a larger and more stable social structure to guarantee their physical and psychological health.
“I was thrilled when IFAW raised the possibility of transferring the bears to our sanctuary. They have provided exceptional care for the bears during their years in Panyu, and it’s now a great privilege to be able to care for them in their senior years at our rescue centre in Chengdu. The move is in the best interests of the bears and, for me, it’s a very special reunion with old friends,” Ms Robinson said after a 48-hour non-stop road trip to bring the bears to Chengdu.
She joined the team of vets and bear managers from Animals Asia and IFAW who travelled the 2,100kms (almost 1,305 miles) from Panyu to Chengdu with the bears. Among them were Animals Asia co-founder Boris Chiao, who headed up the logistics of the move, IFAW’s Vet Dr Kati Loeffler and bear keeper, Tan Mingjun, who had been overseeing the care of the bears in Panyu, and Animals Asia’s vet, Dr Jen O’Dwyer.
“We set off around midday on Sunday (18 October) and drove through two nights crossing the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Chongqing, and finally Sichuan, arriving at our Chengdu sanctuary at 10.30am on Tuesday (20 October). No-one had time to feel tired as we were so excited to be back and wanted to get the bears settled into their new environment as quickly as possible to minimise stress,” Ms Robinson said.
She said it was particularly poignant to be able to welcome “Xie Sheung”, whose name means “lucky”, to the sanctuary. “When I invited our Government partners, the China Wildlife Conservation Association, to give a name to one of the bears at the time of their rescue in 1995, I was expecting them to choose a Chinese name, but they promptly came back with ‘Jill’s son’,” Ms Robinson said. “I explained that we really wanted them to offer a Chinese name, so they chose ‘Xie Sheung’ (Lucky), because it sounded like ‘Jill’s son’. And when we designed Animals Asia’s logo, we based it on a profile shot of handsome Xie Sheung – so he’s our figurehead in a way.”
Ms Robinson said Xie Sheung had certainly lived up to his name. “He’s a very lucky bear indeed – he survived his terrible years on a bear farm, and spent 13 wonderful years at IFAW’s Panyu sanctuary. Now we want to make sure that he and the four other bears – Digger (Dagua), Hong, Chu Chu and Bebe – get the best possible care Animals Asia can offer them in their final years.”
The bears have been transferred into a series of dens fitted with straw-filled hanging-basket beds. The dens open out to a semi-natural grassy enclosure, which the five new arrivals wasted no time in exploring. Later they will be integrated into larger enclosures with groups of up to 20 bears of similar disposition and ability. But first their carers must be satisfied they are ready for the move, both physically and emotionally.
The five bears will benefit from Animals Asia’s world-class enrichment programme and facilities that include rock pools for the bears to swim in, digging pits, hammocks and swings, and sturdy climbing frames, which simulate their natural environment.
It was Ms Robinson’s undercover visit to a bear farm in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province in 1993 that initially exposed the horrors of bear bile farming to the world. This visit also set the course of her life, sparking the Moon Bear Rescue, which has now seen hundreds of bears rescued and transferred to Animals Asia’s sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.
“Being back again with these amazing, resilient bears over the past few days has been an incredible experience. These are the very first bears rescued from the awful bile industry in China and their story and journey are the inspiration for us never to give up until the very last bear farm is closed. They represent the start of it all,” Ms Robinson said.