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13 more bears arrive 'home'

The air was full of anticipation and excitement – it always is when new bears arrive. First you feel elated that animals that have been slowly wasting away in cages, tortured by the extractors of their bile, will soon be released from their suffering. And then you feel sick to your stomach, knowing that the odds will be against some of them and they will arrive with us too late.

And so it was yesterday as the truck carrying our latest group of 13 caged bears rolled in at 3pm. Sometimes you hear them “hooting” in misery or huffing with rage, but this group was completely silent – with only their suspicious, terrified eyes indicating the true extent of their fear.

Boris, Howard and our bear team were, as ever, superb. Bears and cages weighing anything over 300kgs and piled on top of each other were, to those who didn’t know better, effortlessly lowered down on to the ramp. I couldn’t help thinking how their bodies would ache the next day (and even asked Rocky the next morning how he was, only to be met with “no pa” – no problem).

As the offloading continued into the afternoon, each bear was carefully placed on the ramp so that Senior Vet Heather and I could start assessing their physical and mental health. Nurses Wendy, Hayley, Caroline and Helena began a rotation of taking down all the notes and following “their” bears into the quarantine area, while Vets Leanne and Faithe continued assessments and added to the notes.

Senior Bear Manager Nic cautiously numbered the cages with bright-yellow paint, while volunteers Russell and Dan fed fruit onto skewers “kebab-style” so that we could divert the bears and keep their heads, teeth and claws away from where the boys were securing the rusty cages with wire.

Once settled in Quarantine, Bear Managers Donata and Belinda made sure that the bears had more fruit, together with the all-important straw laid on top of the cages, which they quickly realised could easily be pulled through and made into nice comfy beds. For the first time in years the bears had something to cushion their sore bones from unrelenting cage bars.

Today the health checks began in earnest. Four bears anaesthetised, abdomens shaved and “observed” with ultrasound - looking for our enemy liver cancer, which is killing the bears in percentages just too high to be coincidence. Drips set up and fluid given, teeth checked, blood and urine taken for analysis, ears cleaned, nails clipped, limbs manipulated and assessed, and a quick brush and tidy up for those with matted fur before being transferred into more roomy recovery cages, lined with straw, and prioritised for surgery over the coming days and weeks.

Shocking evidence of the brutality of bear farming came to light straight away – with three of the bears exposing “free-drip” holes of bile extraction in their abdomens leaking bile. Two of the bears had two of these extraction sites on their abdomens – victims of crude surgery conversion on the farms from catheters to the barbaric “free-drip” open-hole fistulas. One of the bears had all four canine teeth deliberately cut back, exposing pulp and nerves and others had broken and worn teeth from frantic bar-biting. But all four will sleep better tonight with room to stretch, and hunger pangs gone.

I can’t end this first blog on our new rescue without paying tribute to some of our other staff yesterday. Christie, Rainbow, Juanita, Angela, and Mark, who ran ragged getting the story and pictures over to worldwide media, and our Hong Kong and country offices, while Tamara assisted our VIP guest Harriet Tung and organised her interviews with the film crews.

Irene was also there representing our new Italian office – a kind and generous team in Genoa entirely sponsoring all the running costs so that every penny goes to the bears.

Finally, Toby our General Manager liaised with the Government officials of Sichuan Forestry who had confiscated the bears into our care, and generally kept the house in order, making sure that any small problems didn’t develop into big ones!

Why am I telling you about all these people in this blog? Because I am so, so proud of them all. They and all the other departments working behind the scenes are the backbone of this foundation and the heart of our campaign and goal to bring bear farming to its knees.

These are the people whose faces dropped when the very first bear was anaesthetised last night and we saw his swollen abdomen and waterlogged lungs fighting to combat liver disease, with no hope of winning. These are the people who cried when Heather gently put “Shui” (Water) to sleep and then grieved at his cremation today; sadly saying goodbye to a bear they hardly knew. Here is a photo of gentle Shui:

As the flames, smoke and Shui’s spirit rose silently into the sky – the lines of the poem “Please look upon the others and give them promise of hope soon – and tell them to be patient and proudly wear the moon” gave comfort and strength to a group of people here in Chengdu – and to our team across the world – who proudly honour the bears.

More soon as we free the bears from their tortuous crush cages, and update you on the words and support of Harriet Tung.

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