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Miracle first to go under knife

Tuesday 10am and Jen’s just made the first incision into Miracle’s, abdomen. At that precise moment, the lights flickered, some of the equipment stopped and our vet teams’ eyes opened wide over their masks. With a sleeping bear on the surgery table, this is not a good time for the electricity to fail.

Luckily for us - and Miracle - the emergency generator kicked in (thank goodness we have one) and things returned to normal. Such are the challenges of working in the field in Vietnam. Here for a few days as some of our rescued bears have the exploratory surgery to determine the impacts of a lifetime of bile extraction, I still can’t help but marvel every time I see our amazing team of vets, nurses, bear managers and team at work.

Today marks the very first bear on the operating table for a major procedure in our new sanctuary in Vietnam - and this team, as always, has everything covered.

Just an hour or so ago, everyone was busily working around a nicely recumbent bear. Vet nurses Cands and Fiona, shaving her abdomen, hoovering up her fur from the table, the floor and around her body (yes really!), trimming nails, taking blood, and hooking her up to the monitoring equipment, which would make sure, among other things, that her heart, respiration and temperature were stable as the surgery goes on. Four knitted mittens now adorn her chubby feet (again a huge and heartfelt thank you to anyone reading this who got busy with their needles!) - although it was so sad to see the impact of wild capture on this poor bear as we noticed a snare wound around her front left paw and two toes missing.

And we know, Miracle has earned her name. A bile farm victim - possibly for years - until the facility was closed down and the farmer hit upon the idea of fattening her up to sell her meat on the black market of Vietnam. Snatched in time from her fate, a very large Miracle arrived with us a few weeks ago weighing nearly 170 humongous kilos; quite a difference from the trimmer 150kgs of today - although, it has to be said, still with a slightly wobbly backside!

Two hours later as the surgery goes on we can already see the impact of her treatment on the farm. Years of perpetual stabbing of her gall bladder with unsterile needles to extract the bile has seen this organ now obscenely stuck to the liver, entailing patient dissecting by Jen and her team. Heather, our Senior Vet has come in from China to lend a hand and, together the two of them try to forget aching backs and limbs as the surgery continues for hours into the afternoon.

5pm and, all safe and sewn up, Miracle is gently given a reversal and slowly woken up to recover. Jen and the team now in desperate need of a coffee can be proud that, thanks to them, our first bear on the table has sailed through - innocently unaware of what she has just contributed to our work. Namely, whether in China or now Vietnam, there is no humane or acceptable method to extract bile from a bear - and bear farming MUST end.

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