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).
“There is no doubt that this poor little bear had been suffering immensely for a long time. We just wish that we had been able to help her earlier.”
Kirsty Officer, Senior Veterinary Surgeon
Once again, the abuse and suffering of wild animals used for entertainment was hammered home to us as a young, juvenile bear, surrendered by a small circus in Vietnam, died before our eyes. Despite our efforts to reverse the damage done by extreme neglect – this young girl was literally skin and bone – the damage was too great and her body could no longer cope.
She came to us on 24 May, when we received a call from a nearby local government rescue centre asking us for help with a sick bear they had just received. According to their information, and our subsequent independent investigations, the bear was just two years old and had apparently been bought from a “circus-animal trainer” by her current owner for her own small circus.
This young bear had fallen ill around two months previously, with the illness progressing to a point where she was vomiting any food eaten, and had become very weak. The zoo owner sought local veterinary assistance first and when this failed, she turned for help to the local government rescue centre. Recognising that this was an extremely sick bear, the rescue centre requested the bear be transferred to us as soon as possible.
Senior vet, Kirsty, explains the situation:
“On arrival, this young bear – whom we called simply “Girl” – was very weak, looked extremely underweight and was barely responsive. We decided to immediately anaesthetise and health check her. She weighed just 16.6kg, where our female cubs of the same age weigh 80 - 90 kg.
The health check confirmed severe dehydration and emaciation. Blood tests revealed electrolyte imbalances and changes to certain enzymes, consistent with dehydration, starvation, and chronic vomiting and diarrhoea. We gave as much treatment as we could while she was asleep, and while her prognosis was grave, she survived the anaesthetic and we decided to continue treatment over the next few days.
Girl clearly felt a little bit better after the treatment and was brighter and more responsive. She enjoyed having a bigger cage to move around in and some browse and hessian sacks to make a soft nest for her bony little body – she even became quite possessive of her sacks if we tried to remove them for cleaning. She showed interest in some food items and drank well, finally being able to satisfy her thirst.
However, as the days passed it became increasingly difficult to control her vomiting and she became weak again. There was no other option but to anaesthetise her again so that we could continue treatment via injections. On 29 May she deteriorated further and, just as we were setting up for her next treatment, Girl unfortunately passed away.”
Warning: distressing images
A post mortem was performed and the main finding was severe lack of body fat and wasting of muscles, as well as ulceration of her stomach lining. The vet team is still waiting for the results of further tests.
Our investigations also revealed that Girl’s owner, while misguided in her view of animals in entertainment, cared for this young bear and had tried to seek veterinary treatment. When this failed, and against the advice of others, the owner also insisted on seeking help from the government rescue centre, rather than letting Girl die and profiting from her death by selling her body parts.
“Overall, it's a tragic story”, says our Vietnam director, Tuan Bendixsen. “The people involved lack understanding about animal welfare, even though they mean well. We can only hope that Girl’s incredibly sad and short life can at least serve as yet another example of how inappropriate and totally unacceptable it is to use wild animals in circuses.”