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).
Endangered moon bear born at Animals Asia’s Vietnam rescue centre
15 February 2010
An endangered moon bear (Asiatic black bear) rescued by Animals Asia Foundation from a stifling 40ft cargo container on a bile farm in southern Vietnam three weeks ago has given birth to a male cub.
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 hormonal problem, 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 he was stable this morning (15 Feb) “He is gradually drinking bigger volumes (usually between 10-15ml of formula every three to four hours) and with more enthusiasm,” Dr Officer said. “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. “But he’s doing very well so far, and his squawks can be heard for miles already when he doesn’t get what he wants! “
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.