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A new lease on life for Chris

This was a bear who originally had a belly full of pus and a hernia the size of a football. I'll never forget Chris arriving at our door on the 10th of June 2002 from a bear farm in Dujiangyan.

There were five of them – including Chris – who we heard “hooting” even before the truck had arrived. A mournful cry of misery and pain from a bear whose life was coming to an end. (Chris is second from left.)

The cages were stacked vertically on the truck meaning that the farmer had tried to save the costs of hiring another truck by cramming as many bears as he could on just one. This had forced them to make the long journey literally standing up on back feet all the way for hours – a very uncomfortable position for a sick animal who naturally walked on all four paws.

Chris was quickly scheduled for surgery as a preliminary health-check revealed his massive hernia, pus leaking from holes in his abdomen and a suspected case of life-threatening peritonitis.

During the operation, it was found that the original surgery on the farm had indeed caused bile leakage which, thankfully for this very lucky bear, had been contained between the muscle layers and skin.

Over the next few days and weeks, this gorgeous bear began to trust his human carers to the extent that he even allowed several “drains” to be put into his abdomen, enabling the infection to pour out of his body. He would even walk over to the bars of his den, sit up for at treat, while our nurses sprayed his tum and flushed out his wounds,

Seven years later our big old goof Chris has a horribly scarred abdomen which would put Frankenstein’s monster to shame, but a placid, happy temperament – Chris is friendly to bears and people alike.

Sadly, over the years Chris has also become very arthritic as a result of spending so many years in a cage. It was time for more specialised care – and a bed which was closer to the ground than the normal hanging-basket beds in his house.

As blind bears Mityan and Akimo were moved to another house to begin an integration with a large group of bears, there was now a space in the enclosure we call our special-care area – or Secret Garden. Here, bears like old, old Franzi and her brain-damaged boyfriend Rupert snuggle up together, and blind Snoopy (who starred in the Christmas Kiss film previously on my blog) lives next door.

Sitting here on a Sunday afternoon, I can't stop smiling as I look out onto Chris utterly adoring his new home. All morning he’s been pottering around in his garden. Happily finding food hidden here and there, and now playing carelessly with the cabbage leaves he doesn’t much care for. Once his tum is full, it must be time to play and here this stiff and arthritic bear really comes into his own. It’s not as if there’s been some miraculous recovery – he’s still on the same drugs as before – but just that this very novel area is giving him and his stiff old bones a new lease on life.

For the past few hours, he’s been digging up great clods of soil with his massive, clumsy paws, throwing twigs and leaves into the air, tearing open hessian sacks with straw inside, and rolling over and over in the grass.

And now he’s spotted the sawdust pit and is lying on his back, loving the sweet-smelling woodchips and gleefully finding the occasional treat hidden in the pile. Sometimes he’ll just sit and look around, perhaps enjoying the smell of freedom – and if ever I wonder just why we are here, bears like Chris let me know.

Luckily vet Leanne had her camera at hand!


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