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Yao Ming visits the bears

It's official - Chinese and US (NBA) basketball legend, Yao Ming, has a heart as big as China..... and he is twice as lovely too.

This Saturday, the sanctuary in Chengdu was abuzz as he and his wife, Ye Li, and his very kind manager, Eric, paid a visit to say hello to the bears.

Despite the cold and the fact that the bears were more interested in snuggling in their dens, or snoozing together in little black mounds outside, Yao Ming happily walked around our bear rescue centre, smiling at all and wearing his Animals Asia scarf.

On the surgery table, there was Belton Kleberg, a three-legged bear (having originally been illegally trapped in the wild before finding himself on a farm) sleeping soundly through a health-check, unaware that this superstar was cutting his claws, and touching his tum.

Belton Kleberg has the unenviable honour of being called a "free-drip" bear. This method of bile extraction is one that bear farmers claim to be humane, but which Belton and the team know is anything but.

As Yao Ming ran his fingers over Belton's scar tissue you could have heard a pin drop, before this thoughtful, gentle man looked at the pictures and pathology of other victims of bile extraction and pondered the reality of the bear farming trade.

Off to meet the bears - with Jasper stretching in his homemade nest and giving a sleepy yawn, and Blue (below) sauntering curiously over to the fence-line and sniffing in the direction of this "bear" of a celebrity, as the media cameras clicked.

 

A visit to our graveyard saw Yao Ming clearly saddened that 120 bears had been buried there during the past 12 years, before walking over to the cages that had held their pitiful victims for 10, 20 or 30 years of their lives. 

Finally a quick group pic and a fond farewell to one of China's most-loved superstars - with our grateful thanks to you Yao Ming from us all, but especially the bears, whose plight has been highlighted even more as a result of your kindness and help.

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