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'Twas the night before Christmas...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

How much I love Christmas. Perhaps not the increasing commercialism where shops display baubles and tinsel in the summer, but the happy times of carol singing, friendly greeting cards and emails, wrapping up warm, watching silly DVD's and enjoying hot, spicy mulled wine.

Perhaps, most of all, those special moments where the ripple effects of being festive well and truly rub off on our bears. Every year our teams in Vietnam and China really seize the Christmas spirit and go all out to give the bears a special time too.

This year in Chengdu, vet nurse Vicki's Dad kindly paid for each and every bear to enjoy a coconut - that were duly wrapped up and laid out with love in all enclosures, before the bells rang and the bears dashed out of their dens. Gladly (who so far over the years has resisted any attempts to be integrated with other bears, preferring her own company, thank you very much) was all over her treat - ripping into the hairy exterior with all the professionalism of an old timer who's clearly found her favourite snack.

GladlyThree-legged Harley could hardly contain his excitement as he scooted across the grass, sniffing out empty wrappers left by the more sprightly bears who had got there first, before finally leaping on to his very own prize.

Harley 1

Harley 2Mandela found his conveniently at the top of the climbing platform and made everyone laugh as his wrinkly face contorted even more, determined to snaffle every last sliver of coconut, and slurp up all the milk.

MandelaGentle fun-loving Quantock was determined to be the Rudolph of the group as he dashed around seizing every carrot he could find. His bright pink nose (damaged by years of bar rubbing on the farm) almost luminous as he chomped down on his treat.

Quantock Looking on at all this merriment were our rescued "meat market" dogs Muppet and To Zhai. Vet nurse Emily decided that they would probably enjoy some Christmas silliness too, popping antlers on their unsuspecting heads. True to his lovely, silly nature Muppet was completely nonplussed and spent the next thirty minutes seemingly unaware of how gorgeous and ridiculous he looked. Far superior and almost disdainful of the antics of her very best friend, ToZhai was distinctly unimpressed - and it wasn't long before she had shaken the antlers off and daintily stepped over them, with a withering backward glance that obviously told us not to try that one again.

Jill-Emily-Dogs

Over in Vietnam, the bears were treated to their coconuts by our wonderful friends at The Winton Foundation. A lovely write up from Bear Manager Sarah describes how the bears absolutely loved their Christmas treats:

Christmas came early again at Animal’s Asia Vietnam bear Rescue Centre and Joe must have been extra good this year, as when the time came for the House 2 bears to have their first Christmas in their new enclosure, it was Joe that scored big and managed to devour the majority of the presents while the others were too preoccupied with their regular food or a bit unsure of the new enclosure additions!

hOUSE 2In House 8 the newly integrated juvenile group also enjoyed their first Christmas in their new home, but having shared many a Christmas present and a mince pie in previous years it was Cintron who made a b- line for the tree and didn’t even bother foraging for anything else as she knew the most delicious treats were hiding in the parcels and papier mache baubles!

House 8She was shortly joined by brother Bradley, then Xin Xin, Nora Jamjack, Georges and Tieu Long, followed by the others in this newly formed group of 21. Boisterous fun-filled little Layla enjoyed her first Christmas at the centre in style with her own personal Christmas tree, covered in destroyable treat filled decorations and presents, topped off with her first ever mince pie for good measure. She loved every bit of it, a great sign of Christmases to come for this little sun bear.

LAYLA

Watch the bears in action in China and Vietnam:

Meanwhile, over in Nanning, Nic, Heidi and team were busy spoiling the bears there with their very first mince pies! Nic sent the following message:

“In keeping with Animals Asia tradition, the bears at Nanning had an early treat for their first Christmas in our care. Smudge was the first to sample a small piece of mince pie from Heidi. Eagerly she came forward, as she always does, but was somewhat cautious about eating it straight away. She sniffed it, and eventually tentatively took it from Heidi  - although I can't say she was too thrilled with her Christmas treat, but how wonderful she can make the choice. Some of the others, particularly the juveniles, were wary of this new treat being offered to them, whilst adults like Derek gulped down the mince pie in one go, as did Pickle Nicol and others too.

2014 has without a doubt been an eventful and challenging year that has stretched every single one of us at Animals Asia. Taking the time to share some festive cheer with the Nanning bears was an opportunity to reflect, smile and hope for a bright 2015. More importantly though it was a moment in time, a gesture, that enhanced these bears' lives."

Nanning teamTo see little Smudge growing in confidence, not to mention roundness, is enormously satisfying for us all. Never able to experience a wild environment with her mother, she has at least learned to trust humans again, and is comfortable and contented around all in the team. Her toys, bathtub and a exciting new solid food diet, all keep her bright and curious, and obviously well fed - and we're all looking forward to spoiling her even more in 2015!

SmudgeAt the other end of the age spectrum, one bear missing the festivities this year is, of course, our brave elderly Oliver who we sadly said goodbye to in the middle of last month. The blog last year was full of smiles as Oliver shuffled in to his fourth Christmas and ripped into his gifts with gusto. My enduring memory is how he almost hummed as he bumbled around his enclosure, opening the brightly coloured boxes, and contentedly hoovering all the treats inside.  This special picture, lovingly created by our dear friend Joseph (Sepp) in Germany, leaves a lasting legacy in memory of our beautiful broken bear.

Oliver

As our team around the world pause in amongst the chaos of work to take a festive snapshot to make you smile, we all send you, our friends and supporters across the globe, our endless gratitude for your help throughout these years.

Click here for a summary of our successes in 2014

2015 is without doubt the toughest year we have ever faced, but we look forward to it with optimism and renewed energy knowing that our work and your kindness and generosity really is moving mountains, and that the coming year will see so many more animals walking from their darkness in to light.

staff pic 2

My endless thanks to our inspirational team. To our staff everywhere, for your never-ending commitment to the animals who depend on us all. Whether out in the field, or in the office, your drive and motivation is second to none and while we are facing massive challenges in 2015, we can face them knowing that the animals and our programmes to protect them are safe in your hands.

Have a wonderful festive season, and bring out your inner bear. Snuggle down, rest and relax with your family and friends, spoil yourselves with sweet sticky treats, and enjoy your days, knowing that your ongoing kindness is set to make this our most important and successful year yet.

From us all in the Animals Asia family, wishing you a joyous and Merry Christmas and a happy healthy and very peaceful New Year.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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