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).
20 Chinese provinces now bear-farm free after Animals Asia’s dramatic rescue
Emergency surgery on truck for bear trapped in bile industry for 30 years
Twenty of China’s 31 provinces are now bear-farm free after Animals Asia Foundation’s dramatic rescue this week of 10 bears from Shandong Province’s last bile farm. The rescue team arrived at our sanctuary in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, early this morning (23 April) after four gruelling days on the road, and emergency roadside surgery for one geriatric bear, nicknamed “Oliver”.
Animals Asia’s vet team was forced to perform an emergency cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) on the back of one of the three rescue trucks, saving the life of this dying bear. Oliver, along with seven other bears trapped on the farm in Weihai, Shandong, had been wearing barbaric metal jackets and bile-milking catheters, long banned by the Chinese authorities. Oliver had spent 15 years on the Shandong farm and another 15 years trapped on other farms.
Animals Asia’s Veterinary Director Heather Bacon said it was unlikely 30-year-old Oliver would have survived the 2,400-kilometre road-trip without the surgery, which relieved his excruciating pain. “Clearly the bile farmers removed the bears’ metal jackets and ripped out their catheters just hours before our arrival to collect them. “In Oliver’s case, they left a crude flange (spiked metal ring) embedded in his gall bladder to keep the catheter in place,” she said.
The four-hour surgery was performed on the back of the truck carrying Oliver after our rescue convoy was forced to divert from the planned route to the nearest hospital – the Trauma Emergency Hospital in Feng Ling Du Town, Shanxi Province, which kindly provided the team with oxygen, hot-water bottles and towels needed for the operation. “Oliver’s condition was extremely serious and he’s not out of the woods yet, but at least he’s now drinking and eating a little fruit,” Dr Bacon said. “He will need extensive treatment over the coming weeks for a host of other problems, including chronic arthritis, but we’re hopeful this shockingly abused bear will live to enjoy his time in the sun.”
Animals Asia’s Director of External Affairs, China, Toby Zhang, praised the China Wildlife Conservation Association and Shandong’s forestry authorities who worked together with Animals Asia to close the province’s last farm – one of the worst in China – after an appeal from Animals Asia six weeks ago. “With Shandong now on board, only 11 mainland Chinese provinces still have bear farms. A total of 19 provinces have joined our campaign to end bear farming – closing their remaining farms and pledging to root out any hidden farms they might discover in the future,” Mr Zhang said.
“Along with Shanghai, which is also bear-farm free but declined to join our campaign, 20 provinces have now consigned this shameful, unnecessary industry to the history books – almost two-thirds of China. This is real progress for our campaign and gives us renewed hope for these highly endangered bears,” he said.
The rescue took a dramatic turn on Wednesday (21 April) when road works held up the rescue trucks for seven hours. Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, said Oliver’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, so our staff asked the local police for help. “From that point on, the authorities could not have been more helpful – the traffic police, Public Security Bureau (PSB) and the hospital all swung into action, with the police opening a closed section of road and escorting us all the way to the hospital and the PSB clearing an area around the truck so we could set up for the surgery. The hospital administrators refused to take any money from us, providing a large oxygen tank and other equipment for free,” Ms Robinson said.
“We also had scores of local people looking on during the surgery, showing genuine concern for Oliver and wishing us well for the rest of the journey. These people previously had no knowledge of how bear bile was obtained and they were shocked to learn how the bears were abused. Many told us they would never use bear bile again,” she said.
Bear bile is used to treat a range of ailments in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), even though more than 50 cheap and effective herbal alternatives are readily available. Pathologists and many eminent TCM practitioners have warned against consuming bile – contaminated with pus, urine and faeces – from such chronically ill bears.
Ms Robinson said one of the 10 rescued bears – a massive brown bear nicknamed “Rocky” after one of our long-standing bear workers and because of his stress-induced rocking – had a particularly tragic past. “Rocky killed his keeper in a zoo in northern China. After this, he was ‘sentenced’ to 15 years of torture in the bile industry. Had the zoo been operating under proper safety guidelines – or better still, if this bear had been left in the wild where he belonged – this tragedy would never have happened.”
This rescue brings to 276 the total number of bears rescued from China’s bile industry by Animals Asia – and 42 farms closed. The 10 bears – seven females and three males – are a mix of moon bears (Asiatic black bears) and brown bears.
Bear farming is still allowed in China, however no new licences are issued when farms close. Farmers are permitted to use only the newer “free-drip” method of bile extraction, which is just as excruciating and harmful to the health of the bears.
In 2000, Animals Asia signed an agreement with the CWCA and Sichuan Forestry to rescue 500 bears from the worst farms and to work towards ending the industry. Animals Asia has also rescued 52 bears in Vietnam. The bears that survive, live out their lives at our sanctuaries.