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Merry Christmas – Part I

The year 2008 has certainly been challenging for the staff of Animals Asia. Tragedies and disappointments have tested us to the limit – not least the devastating earthquake, the arrival of such sick and dying bears to our sanctuary in China in March, and the disappointment of not seeing the promised 80 bears in Vietnam.

Of course a million positive developments too as 12 of those such sick bears are now finally in their dens experiencing the joy of their first steps of freedom, while the Chinese pathologists with whom we work are now stating publicly how worried they are to see such sick bears with such contaminated bile and how this may affect human health.

So, much to be optimistic about for 2009 and, to end this year, I thought it would be nice to leave you all with some smiles. This is a three-part blog that shows the true charisma of our bears and the dedication of our staff across the globe who have helped them into their new and very happy lives.

Our first mission required precision organisation and timing. With vet permission, our office staff in Hong Kong kindly funded 171 mince pies for the bears in China and 23 for those in Vietnam. They also bought themselves silly Santa hats and didn't mind being photographed before the mince pies left the office for their journey to the bears in both countries.

In Chengdu, on the night of our Christmas party over 150 staff donned their own silly hats and raised the boxes of mince pies towards the camera in celebration of the feast to come for the bears the very next day.

Even rescued earthquake dog, Tremor, got in on the act. Vet nurse Wendy had kindly bought him a coat to keep him warm on his walks in the freezing cold weather of chilly Chengdu. Normally I don't like to see dogs dressed up – most breeds don’t need a coat – but I had to admit that he did look snug and warm – if not a little silly as we tried not to snigger at his appearance, dressed up in his “bee” jacket and hood, and being cuddled our by chief of security, Qiu Wei.

But back to the mince pies. The morning after the party, Howard, Feng Min and our team from House 2 began laying them all around the grassy enclosure. One of our “mock-rock” trees that was built to encourage the bears to stand and climb (and which is more robust than the natural trees they so expertly destroy) was a perfect platform for about five of the pies.

Twenty-one pies for the same number of bears were lovingly placed around their big grassy enclosure, together with their normal morning food. As we took our place on the walkway of the house, Feng Min was ready to ring the bell, which told the bears their breakfast had arrived.

The bell rang, the den doors opened and, as usual, the bears poured out into the enclosure eagerly sniffing out what delights awaited them today. Jasper was first up onto the big climbing platform, but didn’t seem to realise that while he was sucking away on pieces of fresh orange, just above his head a mince pie was just waiting to be eaten.

This was quite unusual for a bear who has the sweetest tooth of them all – and ironic too that just a few yards away, there was his best friend Banjo standing on his hind legs and scoffing at least three from the mock-rock tree!

Blanca got hers, Aussie found his, and Poppy snatched one before the bear next to her realised what it was. The pies were gone too quickly to know if they were a favourite – but one thing’s for sure, this was a first for bears truly enjoying a magical time of year.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, our staff put on no less of a show for our bears there. In the words of Bec, our Senior Bear Manager:

Most of the bears at VBRC thoroughly enjoyed every inch of their mince pies. As soon as the sweet smell of the fruit mince broke free of the boxes, the bears’ noses were sniffing frantically, trying to source where that scent was coming from. We had every Bear Worker choose their favourite bear and feed one mince pie to him or her. There was a real Christmassy feel in each of the houses, as we had Xmas lights hanging down the corridor, Christmas carols playing and tinsel decorations hanging outside, visible to the bears from their baskets!

Most mince pies were gobbled up in one go, with any pastry that crumbled to the ground immediately licked up by excited tongues! Karuna was especially sweet, taking very small bites at the pie, seemingly savouring each mouthful, incredibly gentle for a bear who has endured so much at the hands of humans. We did have a couple of finicky older ladies, who preferred to break through the pastry and lick at the fruit mince on the inside!


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