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"Watermelon" – a symbol of hope

Apologies for the intermittent posting – I’m afraid our internet connection had been a little temperamental the past couple of days….

It’s late Tuesday night and we’ve now had a full day to assess the bears and prioritise those in most urgent need of medical help. I’m sorry to say that the horror stories just keep coming, but for now, I’d like to share with you a story of hope.

After just a few hours’ sleep last night, our wonderful vets and vet nurses were up at first light to check on our new arrivals, having given painkillers to the very worst of the bears, to help them through the night.

One of those bears was a handsome young male, who we’ve nick-named “Watermelon”. On arrival, this brave boy was clearly in agony with crippling back pain. He’d been rammed into a tiny, tiny cage, and all he had the energy to do was whimper quietly – and breathe. 

Watermelon was cramped painfully on his side, his majestic head pressed flat against the unrelenting bars and his belly weeping a putrid mix of bile, blood and pus. His left forepaw was poking through the cruel bars to rest on the concrete floor outside, the only place it had to go. There was a gentleness about this beautiful bear that just broke our hearts. His breath was dangerously shallow, but the depth of his pleading brown eyes spoke of a thousand sorrows.

As soon as the bears were unloaded from the trucks and their barbaric cages secured with strong wire (to ensure the safety of our workers), they were settled in for the night in one of the long poly-tunnels. While the vet team hurriedly assessed their injuries, the bear workers set trays of fresh fruit and nutritious bear pellets, fruit smoothies and water outside the cages. Most of the starving bears grabbed desperately at the trays and frantically gulped down their drinks.

But for Watermelon, the effort was just too much. The excruciating pain that rippled down his spine prevented him even from lifting his head to eat. At this stage the vets were seriously concerned; this lack of response to sustenance in a starving bear is a very worrying sign. 

Among the melee, one of the bear workers noticed Watermelon wasn’t eating and offered him a piece of apple, then some banana on a long skewer. Widening his eyes, he sniffed at the fruit, but still he didn’t eat. It wasn’t until she gently lifted a piece of juicy watermelon to his lips that this beautiful boy slowly edged open his mouth and nibbled on the tender flesh – almost certainly the most delicious food he’d ever eaten. His whimpers gradually lessened. I’d like to think this small act of kindness gave him the will to fight on.

But that first night was a long one for Watermelon and for the AAF team, with many fearing he was just too weak to make it. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he was still with us this morning. Watermelon was one of the first bears to undergo an emergency health check and despite discovering a number of terrible injuries (his teeth had been brutally smashed from his mouth and his back severely bruised), our vet team found no sign of cancer, which was our biggest fear.

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