Jill observes 2 huge farmed bears wearing metal jackets
Gail monitors Emma (under tarp) whilst bars are blowtorched off
New opportunities for rescuing bears are presenting themselves at a moment's notice - showing a dramatic change of attitude within China and an ever-growing approval of our work. Earlier this year, a Shanghai journalist exposed an unlicensed farm in Tianjin where two miserable bears were suffering from an archaic and illegal "full metal jacket" form of bile extraction.
Following an invitation from the Government, a first inspection of the farm left me reeling in shock at the sight of two huge, caged and angry bears, wearing painful vests made of canvas and steel. Worn permanently, the vests were protecting a long rubber catheter leading from the bears' gall bladder to a metal box, where a fluid bag collected their bile. Whilst Moon Bears can be astonishingly aggressive, they cannot possibly compare with the rage of a 250kg Brown Bear and Black/Brown Bear hybrid, who were now too violent to "milk". As they angrily slashed their huge paws at the rusty cage bars, I realised we had quite a job on our hands.
Endless meetings followed, ironing out logistics with Government officials who were keen to close this last farm and declare Tianjin a "bear farm free zone". The task ahead was daunting - transporting two massive bears thousands of kilometres by road - but finally an agreement was reached, and we were on our way to collect our two new family members. Boris and his workers were faultless in their preparation for the arduous journey home - constructing large, "bear proof" transport cages firmly secured inside a specially customised truck.
On a cold, wet, windy Saturday in Febuary, in sub-zero conditions, the team gathered in the middle of the countryside in Tianjin, at the bear farm, where our Veterinary team immediately began to deal expertly with a frightening and potentially dangerous situation. As Gail stood there with her "jab stick", I was sick with nerves that a sharp injection of anaesthetic into the muscle would see the bears bouncing through the rusty cage floor with rage. But incredibly, both bears remained magically calm, as if they understood that their new lives had now begun.
As the first bear slipped into a deep sleep, Boris and his team skillfully used blow torches to cut away the thick metal bars, just inches away from the fully conscious bear in the next cage. Placed in the cage as a 1 year old cub, this now enormous 10 year old bear was 4 sizes too big to be pulled out through the cage door. After a nail-biting 45 minutes, in impossibly cramped conditions, a large enough hole was cut and the bear finally dragged free.
As health checks began, shocked officials and Chinese media gasped in horror as Gail unlocked the bears' disgusting metal vests to reveal the dirty latex catheters and fluid bags which had collected the bile from their gall bladders over the past 9 years.
All through that freezing day, Annie, our Media Director, worked like a Trojan, filming and taking pictures with her fingers turning blue. She, like everyone else in the team, didn't waver when the local Korean community began to hang a poor dog and bleed it out, before blow torching the fur from its body just metres away. Helpless to intervene, heart breaking with pain and sadness, she carried on filming whilst we watched, sick to our stomachs. The dog, and those waiting and crying in anguish, will not die in vain: We left with cameras full of film, and a wire noose which had choked the life from the victims - further shocking evidence that will help our "Friends....or Food?" Campaign in the months to come.
The following day we set off on the long journey home, tailing the truck containing the two bears and Howard - their special escort. We drove for 3 days and nights, carefully negotiating snowy mountain passes and stopping every few hours to feed our new charges. Over those long days and nights, Howard was a bears best friend - with "OK" and "Hau cher" all the words I needed to hear, as it meant that the bears were content and enjoying their food.
Finally, tired, bedraggled, but very, very proud, we arrived at the Sanctuary at last, to be greeted by a barrage of Government officials and Chinese press who had followed the story of the rescue since it began. That evening, news of the arrival of the now famous Tianjin bears hit television screens all over the country and the following day newspapers nationwide carried the story!
Postscript July 2004
Both Emma and Caesar are now fully recovered, having received major surgery and masses of tender loving care and are safe and sound with our resident 114 happy, healthy bears in the Sanctuary.
One person equally horrified by their condition was Asia's top pop diva and actress, Karen Mok - now our first China Bear Rescue Ambassador. At the Sanctuary she announced to China's media that after hearing of the bears plight she had received "a calling" and knew she must help. Standing next to Government officials she stated her belief that bear farming should end and called on the people of China to join her towards a more compassionate era for animals in the country.
With our Chinese language Education packs now completed, we are commencing mass circulation of these to literally thousands of people across China - in particular to Traditional Chinese Medicine University Doctors and students who are now signing on in droves to our escalating campaign: "Rescue Black Bears - Give up Bear Bile Usage"!
Our work continues to progress with the Chinese Government too: Having recently joined them in our second major investigation of horrendous bear farms - this time in Yunnan Province - and hearing their agreement that bear farming is cruel, we are ever more optimistic that our goal of ending this barbaric trade will be reached.
As the rescue accelerates and we prepare for at least another 45 pitiful arrivals early next year, please know for certain, that your faith and support is utterly vital to our work. Sitting here in our "bear paradise" in Chengdu, watching toothless young Prince dreaming his afternoon away on the high beam and old, de-clawed Franzi and brain-damaged Rupert enjoying the peace of their very own secret garden, I know they wouldn't be here enjoying the sunshine and freedom without your help.
From all the Animals Asia team, our grateful thanks.
Gail checks Caesar is soundly asleep
Emergency health checks surrounded by villagers
Bag of putrid bile, locked inside the metal jacket
The truck on the 3,000km journey home
Another poor dog with a noose, awaits its tragic fate
Caesar undergoing ultrasound & dentistry before surgery at the Rescue Centre
China Bear Rescue Ambassador: Asia pop diva, Karen Mok!
TCM pack includes Andrew sticker: "Rescue Black Bears - Give up Bear Bile Usage"!
Prince - resting after another busy day in paradise!