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).
Animals Asia Foundation’s work rescuing Moon Bears from cruel bile farms in China is the focus of a one-hour special to be shown at 9pm on Animal Planet on Friday, 30 March.
The documentary, “Moon Bears: Journey to Freedom”, is expected to attract worldwide interest in the plight of China’s caged Moon Bears.
The 60-minute special is a labour of love for writer/director Libby Halliday, whose previous films have been highly acclaimed. A former BBC filmmaker, Halliday has followed the Moon Bear Rescue for many years, spending months researching and filming on site at Animal’s Asia’s Moon Bear sanctuary in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
She traces the compelling journey of the Asiatic black bears – commonly known as Moon Bears because of the yellow crescents on their chests – from incarceration on brutal farms to their newfound freedom at the sanctuary. Narrated by John Faulkner, the film takes the viewer through the heartbreak, frustration and ultimate joy experienced by the rescue team as they battle to overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
To date, Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) has rescued more than 215 bears, some of which have spent up to 20 years in coffin-sized cages where they are agonisingly milked for their bile through catheters or permanently open holes in their abdomens. Officially, more than 7,000 bears remain trapped on bile farms throughout China.
The ambitious bear rescue project was launched in 1993 when Jill Robinson walked onto a bear bile farm in China. “It was beyond belief. I was looking at a mediaeval torture chamber, an absolute hell hole for animals. These animals literally couldn’t move, they couldn’t stand up, they couldn’t turn around,” she says. Robinson’s harrowing account of this encounter draws the viewers into the story.
Robinson spent years lobbying, negotiating and fundraising. In July 2000, Animals Asia signed a landmark agreement with the Chinese authorities to rescue 500 bears in Sichuan, to work towards the elimination of bear farming in China and to promote the herbal alternatives to bear bile. This was the first accord between the Chinese Government and any outside animal welfare organisation. For the Animals Asia team, this was a major step, but as Halliday’s latest work shows, the Moon Bears’ journey remains a long one.
Asia’s top pop diva, Karen Mok, (Mok Mun-Wai), who has adopted her own Moon Bear, “Bao Bei”, also features in the documentary. As well as wowing the crowds on stage, Mok shows her more serious side as AAF’s Moon Bear Rescue Ambassador. As the hugely popular singer/actress explains in the film, she was so horrified when she learned about the cruelty of bear farming that she simply could not stand by and do nothing. Now she spreads the word about the campaign to end the brutal trade at every opportunity.
It is illegal for bear products to be exported from China, but the black market trade is thriving. Japan, Korea and China have the highest demand for bear bile. Bear parts, bile powder and bile products are also found in Australia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the US and Canada – the consumers are predominantly of Chinese, Japanese and Korean origin. The bile is used as a traditional remedy for a range of complaints including fever, liver disease and sore eyes. Synthetic and herbal alternatives are readily available.
Bear bile has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, but only in recent decades has the trade become industrialised. “Ingenious” farmers discovered that if they kept the bears trapped in tiny cages, they could milk them daily for their bile,
Audiences will meet Gail Cochrane, AAF’s no-nonsense Scottish vet, whose descriptions of the bears’ suffering and anguish make difficult viewing; Christie Yang, the foundation’s China Relations Manager, who admits she once saw animals solely as food; the bile farmer who visits the sanctuary and shocks the rescue team with his obvious concern for the welfare of his former farm bears; and the ordinary Chinese people who are creating a groundswell of change in attitudes to animal welfare in China.
Viewers will also witness the daily challenges faced by Robinson and her team, the cross-cultural camaraderie that has grown up among the local and international staff at the rescue centre and best of all, the delightful antics of the forgiving Moon Bears as they frolic, swim, climb and tumble in their newfound state of freedom.