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).
Before I even saw him, I heard Wendy say "Watch out Jill, here comes a very big bear". And with that the boys struggled in with the bear on the tarpaulin, buckling under the weight of a huge male who, not surprisingly, we first called "The Beast". There he lay all 177.5kgs of rippling muscle and, it has to be said, not a small amount of fat. Far removed from the skinny, skeletal bears we've come to see from the farms in China, but not really something to celebrate recognising that they're fed an inappropriate diet of rice gruel which bulks them out, puts on weight, but has not an ounce of nutrition to its name.
Finally we decided on a "proper" nickname "Simon" owing to the fact that he had a little tantrum when things didn't go his way during the anaesthetic needle entering his leg - but a big guy with a soft teddy bear heart. Hopefully Simon Cowell won't mind a bear being named in his honour!
Next weighing in at 112.5kgs was a female with a lovely lemony crescent shawl extending over her shoulders. Now named "Clara" after Heather's God-daughter. Neat and compact, with no obvious problems - "a nice healthy young bear", and now resplendent in a pink ear tag as befitting the favourite colour of her namesake's mum!
Vet nurse Wendy and Jill attend to Clara, a healthy girl with a big crescent shawl.
Jill, Bear Manager Russell, Kirsty and Tuan prepare for the final assessments.
"The Beast" Simon is a rather large bear carrying more than his share of weight.
Raspberry on arrival, looks deceptively strong on the outside.
The Vietnam team say a sad and sudden farewell to Raspberry.
It has to be said that bizarrely, their behaviour and indeed their health is streets ahead of those we rescue in China. These are pretty calm and curious bears, with few obvious health problems on the surface. Having said that, don't forget the immortal words of Pathologist Dr Duong who, after examining a gall bladder removed from a previously rescued bear, said if this gall bladder belonged to a person, the person would be dead by now. We don't expect to find anything different with these bears.
And talk about speaking too soon. Having written the above, who do we have next, but "Raspberry" a bear that has been making those strange mouth sounds constantly since arriving at the centre. A nice solid boy weighing 162kgs but now seen laid out on the floor with pus oozing from a hole in his abdomen. No messing about here with this bear - ten minutes later he is on the surgery table with our vet team going in.
The news we had to hand in the meantime was that this bear was, despite regulations preventing it from happening, being tapped for his bile. A month ago, "something" had happened during the extraction process and the story becomes confused with mention of a needle being either found or lost and a chain reaction of infection (another old enemy of ours, peritonitis), necessitating antibiotic intervention. For the next 3 weeks this poor bear was jabbed with ampicillin until he began to eat again. So he's had a week off antibiotics, with infection clearly still raging through his body, after inappropriate treatment and dosage.
And an hour after starting surgery, Heather and Kirsten found catastrophic pathology in the abdomen of this poor bear. Intestines that had been walled off by a fibrotic layer which would have been severely painful, together with abscesses higher up around the liver area. Rather than seeing nice pink intestines we saw them covered in white scar tissue like white plastic sheet, stuck together and making any normal function impossible. The scarring was so severe that this strange tissue was impossible to remove and euthanasia the only option.
Catching our breath after the shock of Raspberry, we carried on through the afternoon with the final group of bears.
Next out is "Nicole" the most monstrous female I've ever seen weighing in at an impressive 183kgs. I hate to say it, but it's the first time I've seen a bear behind that would look more at home on an elephant! The whole area is also completely bald - which saw Kirsty taking a skin scrape in order to try and investigate the cause.
This poor girl also has horrendous teeth all four canines are badly broken with pulp exposed so her weight is even more impressive considering that she's eating through that sort of pain. Thinking back when she was distracted for the anaesthetic about an hour ago, she had her eyes firmly on the chocolate sauce and made barely a sound as the needle hit home - such was her focus on this latest delight.
But at least things look positive for this bear. All good on the ultrasound, blood taken, nails clipped, ears cleaned, eyes checked, ear tag in, and four strong men who lifted her into her recovery cage to gently wake up. Those poor boys are going to ache tomorrow.
Next up is "Puff" and her ruff. A lovely female weighing 122kgs with a beautiful flowing ruff of black fur. Nice weight of 122kgs, and nice condition, but a couple of teeth needing attention including a fragment of a canine held on by gum, so she will need a pretty urgent dental soon.
And last is "Polly" - named by Pollyanna Pickering and her daughter Anna-Louise. Unfortunately, their Polly is a boy. Pollyanna had said she would like one of our "half" bears - missing a limb from being caught in a snare. But sadly not a female three-legged bear in sight and the last one out of the container truck is a gorgeous three-limbed boy, missing his front left, who hopefully won't mind his new rather feminine name. Polly also has the longest neck in the world - and has the nickname "Giraffe". He also has a nice spotty crescent that looks like a mayoral chain around his neck. Weight is 150kgs and all looking good.
Once awake, the bears make their way into the snug recovery cages, encouraged by Belinda with a little treat at the other end!
Nicole, another hefty bear, fat and overfed but undernourished.
Puff also seems to be in good shape apart from being in need of serious dental work.
The bear teams worked tirelessly for three days, taking the weight of these mighty bears onto their own shoulders.