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Vet team bring hope and suffer tragedy in Nanning

24 July 2014


The vet team now working at Nanning Bear Farm have the advantage of much needed equipment and supplies which were sent in advance of the trip.

The use of a surgery table, anaesthetic apparatus and air conditioning means they can work in greater comfort in the still sweltering Chinese summer heat. Though with teams splitting into two this time – facilities were still stretched.

Prioritised for inspection were the bears who had failed to put on weight despite the introduction of a suitable diet – which can often be the result of serious health issues such as terminal cancer.

With the health checks still continuing, members of the vet team have reported back on some of the bears who received care in the first few days of the mission. Much room for optimism with bears having their pain removed. Sadly however, there was a fatality too.

Health check room 1_MG_2248


Themba passed away as the vets prepared to examine him. His weight had long been a cause for concern and when his appetite further dwindled he was prioritised for surgery.

Veterinarian Mandala Hunter-Ishikawa said:

“We were unable to help as he took his last breaths. A post-mortem was conducted. To our surprise, we did not find a liver tumor or gall bladder issues. Without having analysed all the results we can’t confirm the exact cause of death, but gastric ulceration or gastrointestinal lymphoma – cancer – seem most likely.”

Nic Field  Bear and Vet Team Director said:

“It was the worst possible start to the day. Themba had been given the highest priority for health care but no one could have anticipated such an acute onset and he passed away before the team's eyes as they prepared for his health check. The entire team have worked tirelessly over the week with professionalism and hard work. I could not be prouder of all concerned working remotely from Chengdu in far from ideal circumstances.”


Derek had failed to gain weight over the last few months and suffers from a number of ailments including blindness in one eye from cataracts, hair loss and serious dental issues.

Fortunately no evidence of more serious issues were found and vets were happy to see that Derek has put on some weight.

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“There was a shocked silence as Derek's mouth was opened for intubation and we saw that not one tooth remained in the front of his head. All incisors, canines, and most molars had been removed with just six molars remaining. Derek had also been de-clawed in the process and it was horrible to imagine that his teeth and claws had been painfully extracted in one awful surgical mutilation on a previous farm.”

Derek will continue to be fed nourishing food to build up his body with vets hopeful his health issues are mostly superficial. 

Derek 4


Wilberforce is another thin bear – with hair loss on his bony hips and rump – despite having received a more nutritious diet over the past six weeks. 

He is in poor mental health too with head wounds from stereotypic weaving against his cage bars and evidence of muscle wastage.

Vets can’t confirm the exact cause of Wilberforce’s problems until results come back as a number of causes and a combination of issues could be at play.

In the meantime, Wilberforce was de-wormed and his three horribly shattered and infected canine teeth removed.

The surgery will have left Wilberforce feeling much better, but with evidence that he had his bile extracted via a metal or latex catheter implant, he has been scheduled for another health check and possible abdominal exploration on return to Chengdu.

Wilberforce health check 2

Gaius Musonius Rufus  

Moon bear Rufus has suffered badly during his 13 or 14 years in the hands of the bear bile industry.

His front paws have been cruelly de-clawed, while his four canines were cut back to gum level.

Vets were able to remove the canines and tend to the wounded paws.

A victim of the free drip fistula method of bile extraction, Rufus has a scar on his abdomen and, not surprisingly ultrasound examination revealed a thickened gall bladder that will eventually need to be removed. 

Following the operations, Rufus’ health remains a critical concern for vets who may need to perform additional procedures in the coming days.

Jill Robinson said:

“We’re very thankful that bile extraction had been stopped in the past two years at Nanning Bear Farm – at the very least it has allowed these bears’ bodies to begin to heal. Although we are faced with the truly awful reality of bear bile farming here – the situation could have been so much worse if Mr Yan and his staff had not called time on these horrific practices.”

Gaius 5_MG_2435 - medium - declawed

Gummy Bear

Gummy Bear was prioritised as vets noticed what appeared to be serious dental issues causing difficulty eating.

When she was finally on the table it was found that literally all of her teeth were rotten.

Veterinarian Emily Drayton said:

"The degree of periodontal disease was the most severe I've ever seen. The teeth were literally falling out of the gums and would have been extremely painful, but would also have caused a high degree of bacteria in her mouth and potentially the bloodstream too.” 

In combination with abnormalities found on an ultrasound and evidence of disease in the liver, the team opted to perform an abdominal exploration in search of life-threatening tumours.

Fortunately for Gummy Bear, the exploration ruled out the worst.

Antibiotics and pain relief have been prescribed, while significant dental work was carried out leaving vets hopeful that she will make a full recovery.  

Gummy Bear pre-health check