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Rip-roaring times with the bears

Losing Rupert has been particularly sad for the Chengdu team – but of course life doesn’t stop going on, and this past couple of weeks has been busy in both China and Vietnam.

We’ve had adventures with bears across the age range – dealing with the challenges related to cubs of three months and “oldies” of 30 years.

As you’ll have read on an earlier blog, we recently rescued two tiny cubs confiscated from a Vietnamese bear farmer who initially denied they were bears! Luckily common sense from the authorities prevailed and within a few seconds the tiny cubs were both confiscated into our care.

Sadly, not without their problems, as little Chien Thang clearly had an injured back right leg and was finding it difficult to walk. Tuan, our Vietnam Director, had a word with the local hospital, which quickly approved a visit to its X-ray department, and we were soon on our way. Vet Kirsty (pictured here with her little patient) will take up the story from here – and, once again, I was in awe of the sheer professionalism of the whole Vietnam team as they swung into action to help one of our young family members on his road to good health.

“Today we anaesthetised and health-checked our smallest bear on site – Chien Thang who weighs just 4.8kg. He might be small, but he is still very nervous around humans so getting close enough to restrain him safely for injection of the anaesthetic agent was quite a feat, and was very well executed by Vet Nurse Caz.

Once he was asleep we gave him a thorough check over, and specifically checked his right hind leg which he has not been using properly. We could feel a hard swelling below his knee which we suspected was a healing fracture. Once his anaesthetic was stable we drove him 30 minutes into the local X-ray centre, and the X-rays confirmed that he does have a fracture to the mid-shaft of the tibia and fibula bones of this leg.

The good news is that the bones are stable and the fracture is showing good signs of healing. The leg is currently a little shortened, but we suspect that with good nutrition and careful monitoring of his exercise, it will heal well and continue to strengthen and grow, and hopefully not cause him too many problems into the future. Big thanks to everyone who helped, and especially to Caz for doing an amazing job managing a tricky anaesthetic on such a tiny and precious bear.” 


Back at the sanctuary, Chien Thang recovered well and was soon guzzling his milk and tumbling in play with his sister, Charlie. Heartfelt thanks to the local hospital directors and staff who were absolutely amazing – enthusiastic, professional and so very, very kind in helping us with our youngest family member in Vietnam.

Meanwhile in Chengdu, of course we’ve seen the saddest week, saying goodbye to our special friend Rupert. In between this of course there have been uplifting stories of our recently rescued bears from the gruesome farm in Shandong – none more exciting than the fast-track release into a den of our gorgeous elderly brown bear, Oliver.

Oliver reminds me a little of Franzi – even though he’s a hundred times larger – in that he has a bear-sized head, body and paws, but short, squat legs. Perhaps another victim of “stress dwarfism” – and hardly surprising that he tried (and obviously failed) to grow within his prison cage for nigh on 30 years of his life.

Still, Oliver is a gorgeous, and very forgiving bear, who is clearly relieved to be away from cage bars, and enjoying a life where he can move freely at last.

I’m leaving the rest of the blog to Annemarie who has been caring for Oliver. Here are a few of her recent updates:


Oliver loves being in the den. He destroyed everything; it looked like a bomb site.

Oliver seems to love his life outside of a cage. He thoroughly enjoys playing in the water bowl, he has shredded big logs to small pieces and he managed to stand on his hind legs to reach enrichment placed on higher levels. He moves between dens well, but so far he has not gotten into a basket.

Oliver has slide contact with the Asiatic black bears and Dick and Dong Fong came over for a friendly greeting which was met with growling from Oliver. He does not seem to like them very much.

Annemarie’s last update was about Oliver, ahem, regularly passing wind – and once again I’m reminded of Franzi, who timed her emissions just right for when I was usually accompanied by a group of VIPs. And lo and behold my first visit to see Oliver in his den, in the company of longtime supporters Nicole and Siggi all the way from Melbourne, Australia, saw him greeting us all with sounds like thunderclaps as he ambled over to say hello. For every tear we shed for these beautiful bears, there is always a smile waiting in the wings.

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