Why recovery cages?

We’ve received a number of queries as to why we can’t release the rescued bears straight away and why we have to keep them in recovery cages. Please let me explain.

I wish these poor bears could run free on the grass as soon as they arrive at the rescue centre, but sadly, the reality is that they are simply too sick, even the ones that are not on our “worry list”.

These bears have been kept in tiny, coffin-sized cages, some of them for many years. They have been used as machines, unable to walk or even to turn around and starved of nutrition and even water.

Most are severely traumatised, just lying flat on the bottom of their cages with atrophied muscles and dehydrated bodies. Many of them also have arthritis and a number of other ailments and they need constant monitoring from the vet team.

Watermelon (pictured here) for instance, still has a long way to go before he can enjoy his freedom fully - but we'll make sure he's as happy and comfortable as possible until he's fit enough to venture out into the world. Incidentally, the blue tube in his recovery cage is filled with food, most recently "stinky tofu", which the bears love! It takes them ages to lick and paw the goodies out of the tube, keeping their minds active and their bodies exercised.

The rehabilitation process is necessarily a slow one. These bears need time to adjust to space around them, to learn to stand, walk and build “nests” with straw and green browse – and to learn to trust our caring staff and new people around them, so far removed from their lives on the farms. For our part, we also need to understand them, to monitor their diets, to make sure they are eating enough and to understand their problems and preferences too.

Once the emergency health-checks are finished, the vet team will surgically remove each of the bears’ gall bladders, which are horribly damaged from the bile extraction process, repair or remove broken and shattered teeth from years of bar-biting or deliberate cutting-back by the farmers. Their eyes are checked, claws are clipped, their ears are tagged for identification, blood taken for analysis, and bodies checked again for signs of further wounds and scarring possibly missed in the original health-checks. After this surgery, the vet team will monitor the bears again in their recovery cages as their surgical wounds dry and heal.

The time spent in recovery cages varies according the scale of the injuries and complications and availability of new dens. Even then, moving them into a rehab area does not always go smoothly! In their natural state, moon bears are solitary animals, so they don’t always take kindly to the presence of other bears. Like humans, they get along fine with some of their fellow residents and not others.

It’s a process of trial and error, but eventually we will place all of the bears in a semi-natural enclosure where they will be happy and able to spend their days swimming, enjoying their swings, play-wrestling and climbing to their hearts’ content.

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