Where did these past 15 years go?

That memorable day in Hong Kong, as a small team and some enthusiastic animal therapy Dr Dogs clambered onto an open-top bus, resplendent in banners and balloons, and launched Animals Asia on the 8th of August 1998.

8/8/98 – the date deliberately chosen to include the most auspicious number 8 for prosperity and fortune, and another auspicious number, 9, symbolising long life and harmony.

Launched to focus predominantly on the plight of bears, dogs and cats, Animals Asia is as true to its promise today as it was then – to work until the very last bear farm has closed, until bears can wake with the sun on their backs and without fear in their hearts, and when dogs and cats can be celebrated as our friends, not food.

The growth and development of the animal welfare movement since that favourable day has been explosive, and Animals Asia is at the forefront of significant progress in both China and Vietnam. Bear bile farming is now "an issue" in both countries and while it is illegal in Vietnam, it is also looked upon with contempt from a massively growing number of the Chinese population, whose feelings about the industry made it one of the top 10 most discussed issues last year. Just one look at the cartoons here (and there are hundreds similar from people making their feelings known).

This year, after exhaustive preparation by our China Relations Director Toby Zhang and team, we are aiming for no less and, this very day, we are celebrating in Chengdu, Sichuan Province with the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) community who are joining us in a celebration of harmony with nature, and "Healing without Harm".

Growing from four pharmacy chains and 33 individual TCM shops in 2010, the campaign today sees a total of 11 pharmacy chains and 260 TCM shops proclaiming that they will neither sell nor prescribe bear bile to their customers. Their courage is particularly impressive, acknowledging the sensitivity of the bear farming issue, and that it is not always easy for those in the medical profession to stand up and make their feelings known. Here we are burning bile products at the launch.

Because of their kindness and support we believe that we are reaching the turning point, and we call upon more professionals in the medical field to join us in this campaign to end bear farming once and for all. It is simply the right thing to do for China's endangered species – and for the good of people's health. Healing without harm shows the true harmony between traditional Chinese medicine and nature.

At the same time, a restaurant in Chengdu has also found a novel way of celebrating 15 years of campaigning to help the bears – by launching a moon bear tiramisu dessert, with all proceeds going to our bear sanctuary in Chengdu.

Launched this week – with the very popular Moonie leading proceedings (and with our own Linda in the Education Department making a heartfelt plea for everyone in China to get behind the bears) – this is just another example of the passion felt by the public in the fight to end this disgraceful, shameful industry.

Meanwhile Tuan Bendixsen, our Vietnam Director, and his team too have held a large awareness campaign to alert people to the horrors of bear farming. The scenic tourist district of Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province was where Tuan and his team headed at the end of last week. Joining him were council members of Bay Chay Ward, Ha Long Bay City, where Quang Ninh Forest Protection Department officials and the local government invited hotel and business owners to hear the objectives of the campaign.

Officials joined Tuan as he made a call to action requesting that all those present protect bears and observe wildlife protection laws. As this is an area that receives around 2 million visitors a year, this has been a particularly exciting and effective event!

Over an eight-day period, and covered by major TV and print media, the campaign saw 12,000 brochures handed out to visitors and tourists at the wharf, hotels restaurants, and other attractions.

The authorities have allowed Tuan and his team to erect 120 banners along the wharf, and near the turnstiles where visitors board the boats out to Ha Long Bay (an official World Heritage site). They were also joined by a popular Miss Vietnam 2012 runner up from Hanoi who helped them with the event.

This coming year, both teams in China and Vietnam are accelerating important components in our strategy to end bear bile farming, and again I can only pay tribute to them and to the whole Animals Asia team for what is literally the best, most passionate organisation in the world.

As most of you know from following this journey, this is a team that understands the goal and works relentlessly towards it every second of every day. Not forgetting the dogs and cats and captive animals in zoos, our work on these campaigns led by Irene Feng and David Neale respectively is mushrooming at the same level, and my next blog will update you on those also.

To end, this most beautiful poem by Caroline Herd who first wrote about our bear called Dick and his antics with friends on site in China a short while ago. Caroline’s latest poem is the perfect way that I can say a massive thank you to everyone who defends and helps these bears.

So, the poem and this blog is dedicated to you, our supporters, our champions, and to all the animals who have seen a better life over the past 15 years – and to those who still need our help.

Please, as ever, stay with us, carrying the bears, dogs, cats and captive animals in your hearts …. until the cruelty ends.

From the bears

Well my name is Dick, I know we’ve met before,
I’m the one with the scars and the name on my door,
And though I’m not artistic or much of a rhymer,
I wrote you a poem from us moon bears in China.

It was just to say thanks, cause we want you to know,
For all that you do and the lengths that you’ll go,
You fill us with pride, and we stand so much taller,
With Animals Asia still fighting our corner.

I can sit on my platform, look down at house six,
It’s the place we all dreamt of, we love it to bits.
The bad times have hurt us, but they’ve been and gone,
We find and make friends here, we heal and move on.

But the cages are stacked lest we never forget,
So many bears waiting, not free of them yet.
We know that you’ll find them, bring them into the sun,
Crack open the bars, for every last one.

Through all of our troubles you’ve never backed down.
Through floods and evictions, stood firm, held our ground,
And still you persist as the thorn in the side
Of the farmers who hurt all the moon bears they hide.

So this one’s for you, it’s our thanks and our cheers,
Just look what you’ve done with the last twenty years,
You gave us a home, and an army of friends,
To fight the good fight, till the cruelty ends.

And we’re seeing it through, cause the end is in sight,
The moon bears can’t lose if the world hears their plight.
You’ve changed things forever, let us never go back,
So with love from us all,

Your Asiatic black xxx

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