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 vets euthanise rescued Vietnam bear with ‘unrecognisable’ organs
Press release - 26 January 2010
One of the 19 bears rescued by Animals Asia from cargo containers at an illegal bear bile farm in southern Vietnam last week was euthanised yesterday (Sunday) after the vet team found his abdomen was literally rotting away.
Animals Asia’s Veterinary Director, Dr Heather Bacon, who performed the port-mortem examination, said the bear’s abdomen was so necrotic and ravaged with disease that his organs were completely unrecognisable.
Dr Bacon said there was clear evidence that the bear, an adult male named “Raspberry”, had been tapped for his bile even though bile extraction was not permitted in Vietnam. “Bile extraction has caused irreparable damage to his organs and he must have been in extreme pain. He was deliberately kept alive through the inappropriate use of antibiotics so the farmer could squeeze more bile from this dying bear,” she said.
Raspberry – along with 18 other bears – arrived at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre at Tam Dao near Hanoi on Thursday (21 Jan) after a three-day road-trip from the farm at Binh Duong near Ho Chi Minh City. At the farm, which has been closed by the authorities, the bears were being kept in cargo containers that had been divided into smaller compartments.
Dr Bacon described the condition of Raspberry’s internal organs as shocking and the worst she had seen. “At his health-check we noted a small (approx 3mm) wound on his abdomen oozing pus. Ultrasound showed that his gall bladder was very inflamed, and there was a dense mass in his abdomen,” she said.
“Suspecting a tumour or abscess, we took him straight to surgery and discovered that all of Raspberry’s internal organs were covered with a thick, fibrous layer of scar tissue, a reaction to the peritonitis inside his abdomen caused by infection and bile leaking from his gall bladder and liver. This damage was irreparable and so we put him to sleep.
“On post mortem, we discovered a grapefruit-sized abscess of solidified pus next to his liver. His gall bladder was thickened and scarred and full of liquid pus, oozing into his abdomen, his liver was abscessated and clogged with bile salts and essentially none of his abdominal organs retained their normal appearance – all were inflamed and adhesed from the chronic infection.”
“Raspberry also had nodular carbon deposits in his lungs from inhaling polluted air, and inflamed heart valves – possibly infected secondarily to the infection in his abdomen.
“On the outside, Raspberry was a lovely big bear weighing 162kg and still eating, but he would have been dead of agonising septicaemia within a couple of weeks. This is an amazing example of the stoicism of these bears, and the hidden pathology and pain that hundreds of bears on farms must be hiding,” Dr Bacon said.
Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said samples would be sent to Dr Dang Van Duong, Chief Pathologist at the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. “Dr Duong has previously examined gall bladders of deceased bile bears and was amazed that the bears had lived so long in such appalling health,” Ms Robinson said. “He also warned of the potential human-health risks of consuming bile from bears that are so chronically ill.
“Raspberry, who got his name because of the funny “raspberry” noises he was making with his mouth, is a classic example of this. His abdominal area was just one necrotic mess of infection. His organs were in essence already dead. And yet his pus-filled bile was still being extracted to sell to consumers,” she said.
“Thanks to the central authorities and the local Binh Duong Forest Protection Department, which closed the farm and passed the 19 bears into our care, we’ve been able to save poor Raspberry from further agony – and the other 18 from years of torture,” Ms Robinson said. “Without them, Raspberry could have continued suffering for weeks and his contaminated bile would still be going to people who believed it would make them feel better.
The authorities insisted the farmer, a Taiwanese businessman, close his farm because he was breaching bear-keeping regulations that specify minimum standards such as cage-size and ventilation.
Animals Asia Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said around 4,000 bears remained incarcerated on farms in Vietnam. The farmers are allowed to display them to tourists, but are no longer allowed to milk them for their bile. However many are ignoring the ban. They usually immobilise the bears with the outlawed drug, ketamine, then tie them down with ropes. They use ultrasound and unsterile four-inch needles to locate the gall bladder, then extract it with a suction pump.
Mr Bendixsen said the Binh Duong farm had also been openly flouting the country’s ban on bile extraction. “When I asked one of the workers if any of the bears were on medication, he pointed to Raspberry and told me Raspberry’s abscess was a result of a bile extraction gone wrong. He even boasted that they hired a professional bile extracting team who did all bears in just over three hours.”
It appears that none of the remaining 18 rescued bears has a life-threatening condition, but Animals Asia’s vet team is still facing a full schedule of dentals and other surgeries, including gall-bladder removals.