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Four good years

The dreaded “policeman’s knock” came at 9.20am on Thursday. It was Jill on the line, her voice trembling slightly: “Oh Ange, I’m so sorry ….” I knew immediately it was Mafi.

But it made no sense. The last time I’d seen this gorgeous, outrageous bear, she was frolicking happily, bowling over other bears with her boisterous play and hogging “her” swing. Mafi was life itself.

Jill, who was in Chengdu with Mafi when the vet team anaesthetised her and discovered she had a massive liver tumour, had kindly called so I could say a few words to her over the phone as she was gently put to sleep. Words failed me then as they do now.

Jill later asked if I’d like to write about Mafi on her blog. I’ve really been struggling with this because words, or at least my handling of them, simply seem inadequate. Jill also asked for some words from Donata, (who is the current Bear Manager of the team of caring people who have given Mafi so many wonderful days in paradise). I'm sure she has some incredible memories to share with us when she has the time ….

So I’ll keep my words short, and instead post four photos that for me best show Mafi’s amazing journey from the frail, anxious, depleted soul that was delivered to our China sanctuary four and a half years ago to the inspiring ambassador for moon bears that she became.

This stunning bear, who appeared on the cover of our 2008 calendar and our photo book “Freedom Moon”, was after all our full-figured supermodel, who loved nothing more than posing for photos.

The first shot was taken the day poor Mafi arrived at the sanctuary in Chengdu. All the bears arrive in tiny cages, but even by the horrific standards of the farms, the size of Mafi’s cage was shocking. She was severely distressed in those early days, exhibiting stereotypic pacing and rocking.

Months of sedative-laced fruit shakes, good nutrition, world-class veterinary treatment and highly professional day-to-day care by patient and kind people saw her gradually build up trust in her carers and Mafi blossomed (and, ahem, bloomed).

So some months later when I had the privilege of meeting this incredible animal, she was calm enough to sit happily in her comfy straw-filled recovery cage and take the honey-roasted cashews I offered her.

I noticed she was cleverly squirreling some away for later, making a little stash with her paw, then looking at me with those cow-brown eyes and gently rolling out her tongue for more. Who could not love this bear?

That was in 2005:

The next two photos show how easily this magnificent bear was able to turn my despair to joy for a few minutes just watching her at play during the horrific rescue of 28 skeletal bears last March.

These images also show so how well she lived up to her name, “Mafi”, which means “forgiveness” in Hindi (and was suggested to me by my dear friend Archana in Bangalore). This spirited bear did not waste one moment of her four good years.

And this last image is one I love dearly. It was our Marketing Director, Juanita, who first noticed this photo had that extra special quality. And it has. Just look at Mafi's face.

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