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).
Tiger is a strong little character, a trait we hope will add to his chances of survival.
Wednesday, 17 February: When staff at the Tam Dao Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam started their early morning rounds last Saturday morning, they were not expecting the day to turn out as it did.
Entering the quarantine area housing the 18 surviving bears recently rescued, there to greet them on the cold, concrete floor under his mother’s raised cage was a small, crying new-born cub. The team, led by Bear Manager Belinda, scooped him up and rushed him into emergency care, where he was warmed up and soon started on a diet of milk (puppy milk formula) which he happily accepted.
Named “Tiger” to mark the Lunar New Year, this little chap is missing his ears – possibly bitten off by his mother “Italia” trying to assist his birth – had cuts on his soft, delicate foot pads, we suspect from scraping them on the floor, and weighed in at only 400 grammes.
To everyone’s relief, Tiger continued to eat throughout the first day and has gained weight over the long weekend. Our resident vet in Vietnam, Kirsty, and Belinda are providing round-the-clock care for this vulnerable cub, and while he has so far won his battle for immediate survival, it will be a long haul until he is out of danger.
“We are still concerned about him and his rough start to life” said Kirsty, “and will not be relaxing for some time yet.”
A pregnancy was not looked for at Italia’s initial health-check as the vet team concentrated on the areas of most concern (the liver and gall bladder) and kept these first examinations brief so the bears were under anaesthesia for as short a time as possible given their unknown overall health condition.
The vet team had however, been monitoring Italia as they suspected she had a “false pregnancy”, with her behaviour since arrival indicating some hormonal rather than other physical issues. Since all of the bears in this group were reported to have been kept for several years in ‘solitary confinement’, and as breeding bears on farms is not common practice in Vietnam, there was no reason to suspect that Italia was pregnant.
Tiger’s birth, just three weeks after his mother was rescued, can only point to the fact that she had been wild-caught – against Vietnamese law – and within the last six to eight months.
The vet team continue to monitor Italia post-natal. Said Belinda “Italia was very stressed right after all this happened, but settled down later in the day. She was resting in a nice straw nest for the afternoon, and ate some apple, tomato, and watermelon at dinner time.”
Sadly, Tiger will be kept away from his mother and bottle-fed because she does not have the necessary environment to feed and rear her cub and could possibly cause him serious harm.
Veterinary Director Heather explains: “As Tiger has not suckled from his mother, he has no acquired immunity. In the quarantine facility that houses his mother, he would be exposed to multiple pathogens from other bears housed there, extremes of temperature and humidity as this is an outdoor facility, and uncontrolled food provision (depending on whether Italia allowed him to suckle). All of these would contribute to a high mortality risk.”
She said it would be virtually impossible to mother-raise a cub without a properly controlled environment. “Most zoos build special ‘denning/rearing’ facilities with minimal keeper interaction, cleaning or noise and temperature-controlled environments plus CCTV for monitoring. Unfortunately, we cannot provide this.”
“What he needs is warmth, quiet and a secure environment where he won't be exposed to pathogens, so very strict biosecurity for now as he'll be at a high risk of infection until his acquired immunity develops,” Heather said.
Kirsty added that Tiger was far from out of the woods, but at least he was stable. “Italia may well have been a good mum, but timing and circumstances have robbed her of the chance and I am quite sure Tiger would die if he were to go back with her now.”
In the meantime, oblivious to the fuss going on around him, Tiger continues to fight the good fight, and Belinda reported today that he has gained 10g in weight since Saturday and is drinking 20 to 30ml every few hours – up from 5ml on Saturday.
“Now he’s 410g, up from 400g at birth. The frequency he wants to eat, and the volume, has steadily increased over the past 48 hours,” said Belinda. “He has also started to crave attention, and will not go back to sleep without some attention first. A gentle neck and back massage seems to do the trick. He is very vocal, will let you and anyone else nearby know when he is not happy, and has shown a very stubborn ‘bear attitude’ from day one.”
We will continue to follow this tough little Tiger’s progress and add updates on his condition on a regular basis.