08 May 2014, 15:44PM
It’s been a couple of weeks since our press conference in Beijing to announce the Peace by Piece, Nanning rescue in China, where we’re taking over a bear bile farm and transforming it into a bear sanctuary. The days since have been beyond crazy, and the blog has taken a slight back seat, but I just had to find the time to say a few words about a particularly brave man who joined us on stage on that rather special day, and made his feelings about bear farming clear.
Mr Yan, an ex bear farmer, and the General Manager of a state-run company called Flower World in Nanning, Guanxi Province — responsible for the bile farm that is the focus of this project — showed courage and integrity as he spoke about the company's failing investment in the bear farming industry, together with the cruelty that this practice means to the bears.
Although we had heard Mr Yan and his colleagues previously discussing their concerns in private meetings throughout the past 12 months, I'm not sure any of us were prepared for such an honest summary in front of the media of China and the world. But state it he did — carefully and unhesitatingly — in his compelling words here:
"While it seems painless for bile to be extracted while the bears eat - in fact, we now believe the bile extraction process is very cruel. All we can see is the surface and we cannot see the inner pain of the bears. The bears must have inner damage and inflammation otherwise why do they require so many antibiotics? So I think even though there are no wounds on their external physical bodies, extracting bile causes huge damage to the bears."
Serious faces in the room turned to smiles when Mr Yan added:
"We visited the Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu. The centre provides comfortable shelters and a living area simulating a natural environment for bears, where they can have abundant and delicious food, and clean and spacious dens. The animal welfare level in the centre for bears has confirmed our plan to work with Animals Asia. We believe the future for our bears would be improved by working with Animals Asia".
As many of you reading this blog know, we are now working with Mr Yan and his team to create a humane solution in bringing bear bile farming to an end — and his words to the world publicly cemented our trust and conviction that, together, we are doing the right thing.
Usually at these events one passes over a small tribute of respect — and we all felt that Mr Yan should have a crystal paperweight, designed for Animals Asia, with the corner of a metal bar of a real cage shining out from the centre. This piece of metal bar was proudly frozen in the shape of a "V" for victory and of course, for its representation of the crescent shaped fur on the moon bears' chests.
To our surprise, Mr Yan trumped our gift with something that is offered to newly-weds — a brightly coloured ball that is given as a bond of trust and respect, signifying a long term partnership for the years to come.
This rather extraordinary event took place almost exactly 21 years after I first walked on to a bear farm in southern China on the 17 April 1993 and, through this ground-breaking move, we hope to both reassure and inspire the government and the people of China towards a solution-based conclusion to the bear bile farming industry that benefits not just the bears, but the bear farmers and reputation of the country.
As Toby, our External Affairs Director (below with Mr Yan) has often pointed out, the bear farmers are not our enemy and, as we have seen in China and Vietnam, a growing number are actively seeking a way out of an industry that they now know hurts and exploits the bears. With our grateful thanks again to the authorities of Guanxi and Nanning, and to Mr Yan Shaohong and his staff, we can begin the blueprint of a plan that, for the first time ever, sees the potential of “farms to freedom” for thousands of bears here in China.
Last, but definitely not least, our thanks to you, for helping this Peace by Piece campaign and supporting a future where bears will live their years free from the torture of exploitation, in a world without fear. Please think of these miserable creatures lying on bars in their cages, as you wake from a restful night's sleep — as I do each day. It's a vision that has haunted me from that first visit to a farm over 20 years ago — but today, I know that we're on the road to freedom for each and every bear.
Just one voice, yours, can mean everything to them now.
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