Some much-needed Jasper therapy

Thursday started with another post-mortem of the bear we had so hoped would survive. Named Qiang Sheng (strong life) by Madam Xiong Beirong, head of the Wildlife Protection Department of Sichuan Forestry (pictured here at Qiang Sheng's initial health check), this beautiful bear’s auspicious name, tragically, wasn’t enough to get him through. 

First we drained over two litres of pus from a football-sized abscess on his rump, then the ultrasounds showed he was yet another victim of liver cancer. 

It was time to take a break from three days of endless health checks, post mortems and funerals and it was time to keep a long-awaited appointment with the bear I knew would give me some relief. Jasper didn’t let me down. As I stood on the observation deck (with Tamara and Juanita from our Hong Kong office), overlooking his den, Jasper looked up to make sure he was being admired and casually, but purposefully, strolled over to Beau (on the right) who was sleeping peacefully by the pool and, without any hesitation .... bit her bottom! 

Jasper has never been anything but playful – the peacemaker of the whole sanctuary – but this time he’d gone a little too far. Rudely awakened from her dreams, Beau spun around in rage, snarling at the animal that had snatched away her peaceful slumber. And Jasper looked up at us with the most wonderful surprised look on his face, as if to say “What did I do?!” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was were we.

That evening, no one felt in a party mood ­ but we all joined together in the staff canteen to try and celebrate the bears now sleeping on straw in their large and cosy recovery cages. I couldn’t have been more proud when Howard our Bear Team Supervisor (who has been with us since day one in October 2000) said, “I am tied to the bears, honoured to serve them and can never leave”. He spoke for us all.

A few hours later and we are ready to continue the health checks with the words on the headstone of our first bear, majestic Andrew (who died of liver cancer two years ago) etched on our memories...“We are not weaker without you, but stronger because of you”... and we are.

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