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Farmed bears to smiling bears

Something to celebrate this week with our 50th bear receiving her health check in Nanning! Even the General Manager of Hua Hua Flower World, now turned bear saviour, Mr Yan, came along to see how things were going and brought his family and his government boss along too. All were complimentary about the obviously improved condition of the bears – and it was nice to see smiling faces all round.

Nanning farm

Welcome to bear number 50, "Ronnie aka John" – rather wonderfully and theatrically named by our fabulous London Support Group in the UK – a female bear scheduled to have her health check because of previously noted "low body condition and pulp exposure of lower canines...."

Ronnie HC

The bear breathing gently under anaesthetic on the table before us actually had a body condition of which any health guru would be proud. The most beautiful sleek and glossy, ebony black coat, rippling muscles, and a nicely padded frame. PARA Sadly, she hadn't fared so well in her previous existence as a bile farm bear – with teeth and paw tips deliberately hacked back – her front paws now clawless, and all four canine teeth exposing pulp and nerves. Her molars too were a disgrace – rotten and fractured, ensuring that vet Eddie and nurses Vicki and Emily had a very long morning ahead.

Shaving her abdomen for an ultrasound, another horrible surprise was in store as a long, deep scar was discovered around her abdomen. At first we suspected she may have been a breeding bear, and had received a crude caesarian operation previously on the farm – but the scar and ragged suture line that traversed around her hips indicated that she may have been illegally snared in the wild, before being captured and taken on to a farm. One suture rather grotesquely poked out from her skin – a thick "shoe lace" type so often used – and the legacy of crude stitching where the sutures either eventually rot away, or are "walled off" by the body's defence mechanism against infection, as time goes on.

Luckily, Ronnie aka John came through the dental with flying colours – remarkably eating her dinner with gusto that evening, after recovering from the anaesthetic and the removal of multiple rotten teeth. The very next day, there she was, lying recumbent on the small ledge of her outside room, warming her tum in the sun.

The bears' power of recovery is astonishing and we never cease to be amazed with how they come through procedures that would see us taking days to feel well enough to eat and behave "normally". Although she wasn't quite ready for a paddle yet, we knew it wouldn't be long, and this picture of Ronnie aka John taken just a short time previously shows how much she enjoys a welcome dip in her pool and her absolute delight with the good things in life.

Ronnie aka John in poolWith huge respect to our truly brilliant vet and bear team this past week on site – Ai, Heidi, Nic...

nic, heidi, ai... Eddie, Emily and Vicki…

vet team …plus – Ai Chaojun, Xue Zhi Lin, Lin Run Sheng and Leng Xiang Jian.

Ai

the boys

bear teamAlso our very patient translator Kate, and the current Nanning staff who are being trained to properly take care of the bears: Pan Mingyang, Qin Dalei, Ruan Chaoxi, Liang Meilu, Huang Shuyu, Liang Yanlin, Li Xiechen, Su Meirong.

team 1Frankly, there are always ups and downs in the process of training, but we are witnessing some good people who recognise that the bears’ health and lives are changing for the better and, more importantly, why.

team 2The bear sheds on the farm are unusually "quiet" these days, as the bears, simply, have full tummies and free access to water. Anxiety levels are down as they no longer have the stress of satiating their thirst whenever a hose comes near (as was the case on the farm) – now they know they can drink any time they choose.

Paws that were once horribly dry and cracked are now softening up beautifully with only the edges still to heal, and Sydney proves below that tender, loving care can soften the hardest paw.

healing paw Cage doors are open into small yards outside where the bears can come and go as they choose. Bears like Teresa, coming enthusiastically back into a cage that previously suffocated them for years, and now happily eating their food in the bowl before returning to sun themselves outside.

teresa doorThe days this week have been beautiful and many of the young bears especially have been sploshing around in their paddling pools and going quite dizzy with joy.

teresa poolAnd the younger bears, who now spend their days in joyous play with their den mates - something strikingly missing in these fearful little cubs of last year!

cubsQuinn, a beautiful youngster with a lovely big crescent and a big character to match was beside himself with glee when Ai Go and our fabulous bear workers topped up the pools and gave them a cooling shower down. Ai Go caught it all on film - and we're delighted to show off young Quinn in hysterical pleasure – a wonderful example of how so many of the bears are expressing themselves in fun.

Just before leaving Vicki, Emily and I couldn't resist singing Abba's "Take a Chance on Me" especially for Pickle Nicol as requested by our truly lovely friend and UK Ambassador Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore, Downton Abbey). Lesley had previously starred in the stage play of Mama Mia and, on her last trip to see us in Nanning and name her bear last year, had hosed her and other bears down while singing "Take A Chance On Me" to them all. Sadly our rendition was pathetically awful, but Pickle Nicol politely sat through the entire performance and I think might have enjoyed an encore too.

With tangerines, bananas and rice going spare after lunches on site, of course the obvious recipients for these extra treats were the bears, and this has become a tradition that not only they love, but of course we all love too.

heidi sugar caneEager expectant faces pop up, as they wait patiently for their turn, before gently pursing lips and taking their unexpected treat. Pickle Nicol loved hers and relished the moment for at least ten minutes as she cupped the whole tangerine in her clawless paws, biting gently down each time and licking the juice from the skin.

pickle nicolBeautiful ex breeding bear Wolverine, with his fabulous silver tipped fur, simple guzzled the lot – eating whole tangerines complete with skin, and handfuls of boiled rice too. How could we walk away seeing him so crestfallen after scoffing a banana and looking over to Vicki who was just about to discard the banana skin...... Seconds later smiling bear-style in glee, as he greedily devoured not only the skin but the barky bit too!

Cub Smudge on the other hand is becoming a real little princess! She knows that her tangerines will be delicately peeled, her apples cut into pieces, and her water melon de-pipped! Well, that may be a slight exaggeration but, as with all the cubs we raise, Smudge is spoiled with affection and enrichment as our team do all they can to ensure that a bear who would be with her mum for well over two years has little time to miss what she would have enjoyed in the wild.

With endless thanks to Nic and all in our vet and bear team - for working through challenging days always with the most incredible fortitude and good humour.

All in all, a great trip, an even greater team, and bears that have turned the corner into their new lives of peace.

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