New Year Rescue: Two Weeks On

24 January 2013

Two weeks on from the rescue of six bears on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 from an illegal bear farm by the Sichuan Forestry Department and Animals Asia, four have now completed initial surgery to remove damaged and infected gall bladders. 

On arrival at Animals Asia’s sanctuary from the illegal farm in Sichuan province, which has been closed down by Sichuan Forestry, the bears were initially assessed and prioritised for health checks taking place over the following two days. Each bear was then individually anaesthetised, examined, scheduled for surgery and transferred to a recovery cage. 

Of most concern was the bear initially nicknamed Sun Li, after the Chinese actress. The bear was suffering multiple problems ranging from dehydrated paws, rotten teeth, malnutrition and arthritis right through to serious gall bladder complications – all of which meant she was prioritised for immediate surgery. 

Publicity surrounding the plight of the bear even meant that Sun Li, the actress, was soon en-route to the sanctuary – arriving in time to see the bear enter recovery following a five-hour operation to remove her gall bladder. Her visit caused such a stir in China that Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, saw the sanctuary’s news of her arrival shared over 13,000 times reaching a potential audience of many millions. 

Chinese superstar Sun Li (centre) arrives at the Chengdu sanctuary. Pictured here with Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson (left) and China Bear and Vet Team Director Nicola Field (right).

Sun Li renamed her bear Xuan Xuan after one of her award-winning roles. The bears nicknamed Buddha, Toby and Shamrock followed Xuan Xuan into surgery over the following days. Each also had gall bladders removed with Buddha’s reported to be three times natural size and Toby’s staggering vet staff who described the “water-melon-sized” gall bladder as the largest they’d ever seen.

Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson commented

“The bears arrived in a desperate state, frightened and aggressive and with wounds common to bears rescued from bile farms. We saw facial scarring on the bears, obviously caused by repetitive behavior of banging themselves against bars – teeth were almost universally damaged from literally trying to chew their way out. The paws were all in a terrible state due to poor diet and dehydration and having to walk day-in, day-out on the bars of their cages. 

“It’s hard to imagine, not just the confinement, but also the sheer pain they were living with day by day. Each of their ailments alone would have been near unbearable. As each bear recovered from surgery and was thoroughly spoilt by staff you could see them slowly recovering from living with that pain and see their personalities starting to shine through.”

With each bear in turn requiring their gall bladder to be removed, due to the damage caused by bile farming, the bears were introduced to recovery cages one by one to start their period of recovery and quarantine typically lasting 45 days.

While the bears remained in the recovery cages, staff ensured that a process of “enrichment” ensured the bears were stimulated. Each bear was introduced to new foods, toys, even sounds with music played on a regular basis. 

In the meantime, also moved by the plight of the bears was British actor Peter Egan. As with Sun Li, also an Animals Asia ambassador, a bear had been named in his honour. The actor was keen to meet the bear and also arrived in time to witness Buddha’s operation. 

Animals Asia Ambassador and actor Peter Egan with Buddha as he undergoes an operation to remove his gall bladder.

Peter Egan said

“As well as this being the first visit to a sanctuary of this kind, it's the first time I've been close to a bear - particularly a moon bear - and I am stunned by the forgiveness that you can feel from these dreadfully abused animals, their inquisitiveness and their appetite for life. The whole experience really confirms to me how disgusting the bear bile farm business is and how wonderful it is for these bears to find something similar to the life of a free bear.”

Three of the bears now have the permanent names of Shamrock, Peter, and Xuan Xuan, and the remaining three have been temporarily nicknamed Toby, Katie, and Buddha. 

Dubbed the “New Year Rescue” by Animals Asia staff, the bears rescued shortly after the start of the western New Year, are likely to finish their quarantine shortly after China’s Lunar New Year celebrations the following month. In the meantime the two remaining bears will have their gall bladders removed and further surgery will be planned as required.