RIP Oliver – the bear who inspired a movement

13 November 2014

Oliver at CBRC

Oliver, a bear who survived 30 years in a Chinese bear bile farm cage before being dramatically rescued, has died at Animals Asia's Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre.

Oliver had spent four and a half happy years at the sanctuary. On Wednesday, following a gradual deterioration in his condition, in conjunction with team discussions, vets took the decision to euthanise him. The surgery was full with staff who had rescued and cared for him, all saying their goodbyes.

His rescue in 2010 from a bear farm in Shandong was captured in the movie "Cages of Shame". During the 1,500km journey home, he required life-saving surgery on the roadside. International vets received support and help from a local hospital and police which was integral to Oliver's survival. His desire to make the best of his sanctuary years further moved campaigners for whom he became an inspiration.

Brown bears are only expected to live around 30 years and Oliver had spent that time in a cage. Yet he was determined to enjoy his borrowed years out on the grass in the sunshine at Animals Asia's sanctuary.

"Cages of Shame" continues to be shown to animal lovers in towns and cities across the world.

Animals Asia founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

"In 2010, we found Oliver as a broken bear. His body conformation and legs were misshapen by years of being crushed in a cage and it was feared he would not survive the 1,500 mile journey home."

When Oliver's condition began to deteriorate – panting heavily and refusing to eat –Animals Asia vets decided that only an emergency operation would save his life.

Jill Robinson said:

"He was an old bear who had suffered more than anyone can imagine but it just didn't seem right that he could be so close to freedom and not make it."

Under local police escort, the convoy of trucks headed to a nearby provincial hospital to borrow a bottle of oxygen needed for the anaesthetic. After four hours of intense surgery surrounded by huge crowds of concerned onlookers, Oliver's diseased gall bladder was removed along with a crude and painful metal coil that had been inserted into his abdomen by his captors to fasten the gall bladder to the abdominal wall. The following day he would reach his sanctuary.

Oliver wanders in his enclosure at CBRC

Jill added:

"He brought so many people together that day – from Shandong to Chengdu and across the country– and he's continued to do so ever since. As an old bear who refused to give up, his fight inspired ours. His story has continued to be told across the world and has raised increasing awareness of the horrors of bear bile farming. Our broken bear turned teacher, his stoic, gentle nature will continue to inspire the rescue of so many more.

Animals Asia's China Bear and Vet Team Director, Nic Field said:

"Oliver's story is so powerful, he became a focal point of the growing support of our work in China. To so many, he represents the suffering of the thousands of bears still languishing on China's bear farms. More importantly he has been a symbol of hope. Every visitor to the sanctuary and every supporter around the world knows Oliver's story. I am quite sure his legacy will live on.

"The entire team were devastated at his passing and he will be sorely missed. There is comfort in knowing that collectively we were able to give him more than four years of freedom. Despite everything he had been through, Oliver's forgiving and spirited nature touched all that met him."

Goodbye Oliver