New-born bear cub clinging to life at Animals Asia’s Vietnam rescue centre
17 February 2010
A tiny moon bear (Asiatic black bear) born unexpectedly early on Saturday morning at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam is still clinging to life.
Belinda Bordelon, Bear Manager at the sanctuary in the Tam Dao National Park, near Hanoi, said today (17 Feb) that little “Tiger” had gained 10g in weight and was doing well so far, drinking 20 to 30ml every 2.5 to 3.5 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,” Ms Bordelon said. “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.”
Animals Asia’s resident vet at the sanctuary, Dr Kirsty Officer, said that while the slight weight gain was a good sign, it was still early days. “We are still concerned about him and his rough start to life, and will not be relaxing for some time yet.”
Italia, along with 18 other endangered moon bears, were rescued from a stifling 40ft cargo container on a bile farm in southern Vietnam just three weeks before she gave birth. Our veterinary team was taken by surprise by the birth, as Vietnamese farms don’t breed. (The birth suggests that Italia was probably taken from the wild).
The 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 the examinations brief so the bears were under anaesthesia for as short a time as possible – and so they could be removed them from the cargo containers and settled into the quarantine area as quickly as possible.
The vet team anaesthetised and health-checked 19 bears over three days. They also performed a full exploratory surgery and post mortem for “Raspberry”, who was euthanised after his organs were found to be literally rotting away.
Veterinary Director Dr Heather Bacon said all the bears were palpated during their initial health-checks, but it was difficult to detect a pregnancy if the muscles were tense. [Vets perform “palpation” by using their hands to apply pressure on the abdomen and feel for any abnormalities.]
BACKGROUND: The following is from our original release issued on 15 Feb 2010: The 0.4kg cub – named “Tiger” to mark the Lunar New Year – was born at Animals Asia’s sanctuary in the Tam Dao National Park near Hanoi early on Saturday morning (13 Feb). Tiger’s arrival brings to 51 the number of bears rescued by the sanctuary.
Although our vet team had been monitoring the young mother (named “Italia”), because they suspected she had a “false pregnancy”, Tiger’s arrival came as a surprise to staff, who found him cold and crying on the concrete floor under his mother’s raised quarantine cage on Saturday morning. His ears had been bitten off, presumably by his mother either trying to assist in his birth or trying to pull him up from the cold floor. He also has bruises on his feet, possibly from pushing himself around on the concrete.
Animals Asia Bear Manager Belinda Bordelon said: “I warmed him up, and then a little later offered him some milk [puppy milk formula], which he happily accepted. What a relief. Tiger’s mother 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 then 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.
Animals Asia’s veterinary Director Heather Bacon explained: “As Tiger has not suckled from his mother, he has consumed no colostrum and therefore 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 and sepsis until his acquired immunity develops,” Dr Bacon said.
Animals Asia’s Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said Tiger’s birth, just three weeks after his mother was rescued from a bile farm where the bears were being kept in ‘solitary confinement’ pointed to the fact that she had been wild-caught, against Vietnamese law. “While we’re over the moon about our unexpected arrival, this is clear evidence that poaching from the wild is still going on. Clearly she has been recently wild-caught, which also explains her preference for “browse” [wild grasses and branches] when offered food.”
Kirsty Officer, Animals Asia’s resident veterinarian at the Tam Dao sanctuary said the cub 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.”
Tiger’s mother, “Italia”, along with the 18 other moon bears, was rescued from a bile farm in Binh Duong, near Ho Chi Minh City on 18 January. The bears had been crammed in these containers – six or seven bears to each and each bear confined in his or her own dark compartment. Before that, the farmer, a Taiwanese businessman, had kept them in tiny concrete cells on a “farm” in the city of Binh Duong.
These poor bears – still in the terrible cargo containers – endured a three-day road-trip from the farm in the far south to our Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao, near Hanoi in the north – including a nail-biting drive through the treacherous Hai Van mountain pass in blinding rain and mist!
Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam Director for Animals Asia, said bear bile and gall bladders had been used in Asian medicine to treat “heat-related” illnesses, such as liver and eye complaints, for thousands of years. Traditionally, the bears were killed in the wild. But in the past three decades, entrepreneurs in Korea, China and Vietnam have found ways to keep the bears alive and milk them regularly for their lucrative bile.
In Vietnam, the bears are drugged – usually with the illegal drug, ketamine – removed from their small cages, restrained with ropes and jabbed in the abdomen with four-inch needles until the gall bladder is found. The bile is extracted with a catheter and medicinal pump; usually 100-120ml is taken.
Bear bile extraction is illegal in Vietnam, however a lack of enforcement means the practice is still widespread and around 4,000 bears remain trapped on farms. Animals Asia has been negotiating with the Vietnamese Government on the issue for more than 10 years.