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).
After almost eight months of recovery, the stoic survivors of the March 2008 rescue have ventured out of their cages and into their new dens! In what was an exciting and rewarding day for all of our staff in Chengdu, 19 November saw these brave bears take their first steps in years, on solid ground.
The words of Senior Vet Heather and Senior Bear Manager Nic capture the occasion:
Heather: Nic and I have both shed some tears today and the A-team has been high-fiving! Everyone here has worked brilliantly and is so delighted. The sun is shining and the bears are free!
Well here it is, the day we've all been waiting for – as I type, our 12 precious survivors are making the trip in their recovery cages from poly-tunnels to the rehab dens. [Bear worker] Chen and her team have been working all week, feverishly cleaning dens and arranging enrichment. They've spent all morning laying out delicious toys and treats to welcome our bears home. Nic, Howard, Ai and Rocky have debated who will go where, pairing up friends in adjoining dens and putting quieter, shy characters into dens where they will have the peace and quiet to adapt to their strange new life of freedom. And now at last it's moving time!
First up is Gypsy, the first bear off the truck on 31 March and, fittingly, the first bear to set foot on solid ground after a lifetime on bars. Seemingly bewildered by her new surroundings, she startles when Wan Man Gun, our kennel man, walks past with Noddy, one of our on-site guard dogs. But steadily her youthful exuberance takes over and she dives into her water trough, splashing and playing. Then Juniper arrives in the den next door. Her excitement is too much to contain and she snatches at the browse, her bamboo feeder and anything else she can grab, rolling, wrestling and playing, and we all know it will only be a matter of time before she's out in the enclosure wrestling like any other young bear.
George, originally nicknamed Xiao (small) Howard, lives up to his namesake as a cheeky, sociable chap. Within minutes of arriving in his den, he's sitting at the slide clucking and reaching through to Laetizia, a bear formerly known as Rockstar as she was so compulsively stereotypic when she arrived. Bored out of her mind on a bile farm, she had developed a habit of furiously rocking to try and soothe herself, a habit which has gradually, over the past six months, become a rare occurrence.
Even blind Wilfred (formerly Watermelon) steps unhesitatingly from his recovery cage into his deliciously enriched den to lick at his honey smears and scattered dried fruit.
So now they're all settled into their new homes, Gypsy, Juniper, George, Laetizia, Haribo, Ronda, Egmont, Karaflas, Tanja, Tyson and Wilfred, waiting only for Loveykins to join them (currently at the hospital recovering from repeat surgery for a chronic elbow wound inflicted on the farm). It’s been a long and difficult seven months: 28 bears arrived and now we have just 12 precious survivors. We've shed a lot of tears and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but we think the best is yet to come – enclosures and integrations! Was the heartache worth it? Hell yeah!
Nic: Tears indeed and ending the day with a spring in our steps, smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts. I mirror Heather's words – it has so been worth it all. I can't help myself; I just have to add to what Heather has written here. The same fine Sichuanese men who unloaded these very same bears off the trucks when they arrived from the farms that chilly night at the end of March, moved them to their new homes and on to the next stage of their journey.
The planning and debates for which bears would go where were very much a group effort including Chen, Pan Ke and the rest of the team that have cared for each and every one of these bears on a daily basis from the moment they arrived. Each day, they have observed and recorded the details of each bears' behaviour, activity, appetite and more recently, their interactions with each other when their transport cages have been paired up. Their efforts have been invaluable and they each smiled today to see these survivors in dens.
Within seconds of the slides being opened, each of the bears stepped forth into their dens with confidence. As Heather mentioned, the team had set up the dens beautifully with browse and delicious enrichment, not to mention wonderful toys that the bears could not refuse.
Gypsy was the very definition of elation, Haribo embraced the steps out of the inner den to the outer den on his little legs with some unsteadiness to begin with, but by the end of the day this was a fast-developing skill. George, true to his nature, cheekily teased Laetizia through the slides when first meeting but by the end of the day, both content from their day's excitement and evening feed, they were exchanging mutual friendly sniffs.
Ronda, ever a calm individual, proudly sat at the top of the steps down into the outer portion of her den taking in her new environment and looking out over the enclosure that will one day soon be hers to run and play in. Karaflas, a bear that can be quite stressed, has explored every inch of her new home and manipulated rock piles to get to delicious treats and there was not one head sway from her today.
As the day ended, I made one final visit to see how they all were and everyone was a sight of contentment. Egmont was busy gathering straw and browse to make his bed for the night, Tanja lay on her back, gently chewing and moving browse between her paws as if this had always been her home and Wilfred, who after his first bumpy steps into his new den, sat gazing out of the slide to the enclosure. He can't see it but he knows there is something even better to come!
The “A-Team” work flat out to bring the bears to their new homes.
Gypsy discovers the joy of the water trough in her new den.
Juniper quickly tries out her hanging basket bed, and clearly approves.
George and his new neighbour Laetizia have a cozy chat.
Tanja takes a vantage point on the steps to look everything over.