Jasper - farewell our peacemaker.

"Jill, I'm sorry......" and with those words from our Vet Eddie, who had tears running down her face as she spoke through her mask, I knew we were saying goodbye to our beautiful bear.

Eddie's words took some seconds to sink in. Please not Jasper........not the bear who arrived 15 years ago in a crude crush cage that had flattened him to the bars. Not this victim of bear bile farming, with his abdomen a mass of infection surrounding a protruding metal catheter, and yellow-brown bile dripping onto the floor. Not the bear who, even while he suffered, had pushed his paw out of the cage and patted my hand.jasper cageBut now here he was, lying there on the operating table, looking small and vulnerable as Eddie opened him up for exploratory surgery, to check some concerning images that the ultrasound had found. ultrasoundTo the shock of all in the room, there was nothing small and vulnerable about the tumour that had taken over the entire central lobe of his liver. Large and aggressive, with a life of its own, that had grown to this proportion in just three months.surgeryWith the news quietly sinking in, it seemed impossible to believe that up until that point, Jasper had been behaving pretty much like a healthy, normal bear.... staff had seen him playing with friends, I'd smiled the day before to see him sunbathing on the platform in his beloved enclosure.... and together with our Bear and Vet Team Director Nic, had fed him dried kiwi, pineapple and dates, laughing when he looked at the banana in disdain and ignored it, as he always, always did.jasper outsideThe only reason he was on the table at all was because subtle images on ultrasound had been picked up by Eddie and our dedicated vet team, during a health check three months ago. At that time, two very small nodules had been detected close to the remnant of his gall bladder, but nothing of a size to warrant major concern. Since then Jasper would be very slightly picky with his food – eating less one day, and more the next – but the situation was extremely difficult to gauge when the weather was cold and the bears naturally up and down with their food.

Still, with the team's radar up, and with the warmer weather now seeing Jasper continuing to be a little selective, it was time to bring him in for another health check, just to make sure.

And here we were looking at a tumour 14cm x 14cm and weighing 1.4kg. Staring at this ugly foreign body that we have seen so many times in rescued farmed bears, we were looking at his quadrate (central) liver lobe – where not one healthy piece of tissue was seen. The mass just sat there, having taken over the entire lobe that was, by Eddie's estimate, now ten times its normal size.jasper sunshineAs we pieced together the evidence – the familiar pattern arose. The central lobe is very closely associated with the gall bladder; the organ surgically mutilated to extract bile on a daily basis on the farms. Such a tumour is highly aggressive and would have spread very quickly, ultimately invading the rest of his liver and other organs too. Approximately 35% of our bears have lost their lives to tumours like this – a percentage far too high to be coincidence – and yet another reason why regular health checks are carried out on our bears.

In amongst the grief for Jasper, is our grief for bears on farms who don't have a loving family looking after them and picking up on the subtle signs of ultimate demise. Were it not for our wonderful bear team staff reporting back that Jasper was eating maybe a few biscuits less, this dark spectre of cancer could have continued for many more months, with all that implies to his quality of life. With 10,000 bears or more on farms across China, I have no doubt at all there are so many nameless bears suffering incomprehensible pain today. If we see such gross pathology in our "healthy" bears, what on earth must those on farms see, with bears who don't receive routine health checks every two years.

Everyone at the sanctuary here in Chengdu, our team across the world and Jasper's kind sponsors, Anthony and Shashanna are heartbroken. It's been said by so many of Jasper's friends that they thought he was invincible - certainly he was a bear given to extraordinary fame, and he sucked up the limelight whenever he could. Stories are legendary of camera crews going to the bear houses for some "general" bear pictures, and returning to the office asking about the bear with yellow eyebrows, who had gleefully photo-bombed all their shots.jasper yellow eyebrowsTwo books have been written about this extraordinary bear, and many more stories and films featuring him too. Perpetually in the middle of "bear bundles" of play, and even on the Saturday before he died, delighting visitors at our Open Day as he rolled around in the grass with his friends.jasper friendHe was a bear that I would always use as the example – that while we rescue these bears, they rescue us. Many times on a "bad" day I'd turn off the walkie talkie and wander over to House 2, looking forward to a quiet meeting with a colleague who had a beautiful yellow crescent and ridiculous Mickey Mouse ears.

Supporters and celebrities alike loved meeting Jasper – and he loved meeting new friends too. I think he was the only bear who really knew his name, and smiles lit up as he sauntered from the far end of his enclosure into the den to enjoy an "illegal" treat or two.jasper peanut butterThe surgery on Thursday filled up with dozens of our staff who had come down to say a final goodbye, surrounding the surgery table in silence as he drew his last breath. His funeral at the end of the day was both profoundly sad, yet saw tearful smiles too, as "Moonie", the giant model bear crafted in Jasper's name, made a guest appearance and stood silently by his grave.moonieNow sleeping with our other bears – his grave mound is huge. I'd asked our lovely Horticulture Team if they could make a slightly larger mound for this larger than life bear – and got Everest. Even that makes me smile, and would undoubtedly have made Jasper smile too.jasper treeThank you especially to everyone here at our Chengdu sanctuary - these days have been shrouded with grief, and yet everyone has shone, with all departments doing whatever it took from the second Jasper was on the surgery table, to his last resting place of peace.coloradoThank you too to the bears Jasper has left behind in both China and Vietnam - each and every one as special and individual as Jasper, and loved for their glorious characters and the part in this journey they play.jasper graveAs we say farewell to our peacemaker, we take comfort in knowing that Jasper had the best and most joyful life. I don't think I ever looked at him without laughing out loud, and miss him, achingly so, but am so grateful to him too for the years of love and friendship and for the joy he brought into our lives.jasper nestFinal and endless thanks to so many people paying tribute across the world for a bear of superstar fame. Our very first bear, Andrew, was remembered as the Brad Pitt of the bear world, so handsome was he – and, in the same spirit, Jasper was often referenced as our ursine Johnny Depp.jasper hammockThis week we are asking everyone to give bear hugs for the bears. Hug your family, your friends, your colleagues, your teachers, your cats and your dogs, and even those you wouldn't normally hug too... because more than anything, our bear hug expert, our peacemaker, our Jasper, would have loved this theme, as he hugged for China with his friends.jasper hug

Please make this week special for our work and mission, because if one bear can change the world through sharing hugs of compassion and love, our bear Jasper can.

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Books about Jasper:

Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff: http://sleepingbearpress.com/shop/show/11591

Nigel Gray: http://www.vividpublishing.com.au/savingjasper/