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Rainbow – snared for greed

Rainbow's name was given to her as we drove for nearly two hours to locate and rescue her. There in the sky, as we climbed high into the mountainous region of Peng Zhou, was the most beautiful rainbow – So resplendent in its vibrant hues, that we passed dozens of people taking pictures of it along the way. Nic, our China Bear and Vet Team Director, commented that we would find the cub at the end of it, and Rainbow had her new name.

trail 1

Leaving the humidity and heat of Chengdu – the drive into the mountains saw cooling and welcome fresh air. The scenery was breathtaking – a beautiful Shangri-la of forest and nature at its best. Tragically, in amongst all this beauty was the ugliness of man. We learned that high in the mountains, an elderly woman had been taking a walk, and been badly shaken by coming across a moon bear cub, cruelly caught in a snare. The cub was trapped and couldn't move, with her right limb damaged and rotting in the snare, and beside herself with fear.

rainbow 1

 As we were in a place that was exquisitely wild – beautiful mountainous forest – we can only assume that the hunters were opportunists and would have set snares to catch free roaming animals unfortunate enough to step into them. Sadly, with a market for wild meat and parts, any animal would have been fair game.

Luckily for the cub, the forestry authorities had called Vivien at our Chengdu bear rescue centre, who immediately swung into action and alerted the team. Within a couple of hours a fully equipped truck was ready and we were on our way to Peng Zhou.

Reaching our destination, we were met by the Peng Zhou officials. Genuinely concerned and upset by what they had seen, they described the area where the cub was snared a short walk away, and summarised details of the victim too. They were astonishingly accurate – after estimating that the cub was 35kgs (she turned out to be 31kgs). A yearling – perhaps a year to 18 months of age, with a mother inevitably out there in the forest too.

rainbow close up

Walking silently up the track together, our hearts were in our mouths in grim anticipation of what we were about to see. There a few yards ahead, a black form in the foliage and suddenly a vocalisation of fear and fury from an animal that was obviously in distress. A horrible cracking sound and we realised that this poor youngster was attempting to bite the wire of the snare that held her paw. A swarm of flies buzzed around her head, and we could all smell the stench of rotting flesh.

As vet Sheridan and vet nurse Wendy calmly prepared the anaesthetic dart and loaded it into the blowpipe, the rest of us kept a distance away in order not to disturb the cub any more than necessary. While Wendy distracted the cub, Sheridan crept behind and, with one deft breath, discharged the dart.


Success first time, and within minutes the yearling was sleeping. The relief was palpable as we were able to drag her out of the bushes, knowing that she was no longer awake to what must have been incomprehensible fear and pain.

out of the woods 2

Everyone gasped with shock, tears too, looking down at her snared limb and thin and dehydrated body. Maggots had infested her face – crawling into her mouth and nose, with hundreds of eggs beginning to hatch. Her teeth were damaged, and her snared limb was horrific to witness.

out of the woods 1

With the wire biting down into rotting and necrotic flesh, her paw was at least twice its normal size and essentially dying from a lack of blood supply and infection. Such had been her pain and stress, she had bitten down onto this paw, and had already chewed off two of her own toes.


paw close up

As Rocky cut the wire of the snare, the forestry officials took it away as part of their investigation, and Wendy and Rocky were able to carry the bear to the waiting truck and back to our hospital in Chengdu.


Arriving back about 9pm and laying her gently on the surgery table, it was clear that tragically nothing could be done to save her paw. So much infection and damage to this, and to her limb about three inches from the elbow, that amputation was the only option. With heavy hearts from all in the team, Sheridan began life saving surgery, which went on until after midnight that night.

surgery 1

Finally resting on straw in a recovery cage and with antibiotics and pain killers surging through her body, little Rainbow would be checked on throughout the next few hours by our incredible team.

surgery 2

surgery 3

The next morning saw a sleepy but feisty patient, clearly confused and missing her mum. Sheridan, Nic and Eddie needed the patience of saints to feed and clean her – being too big and unpredictable (and often extremely aggressive from the fear that remained as a result of her traumatic past) for any hands on work at all.


As the days go on, Rainbow is slowly responded to kindness, gradually understanding that the presence of humans is now not something that will harm her, but something that will bring soft words and good thing to eat.

On Thursday I stood outside the bear room peeking in, while Nic fed her – and she pounced on everything as it landed. Normally, she would have had a food bowl gently placed in the cage, but the food flap is quite wide and it was felt that she might be able to squeeze her head through. So food is now being expertly thrown onto the top of the cage and through the bars – where she eagerly grabs it as it lands. I was surprised to see how quickly she had mastered this skill – and, even though sometimes the odd piece of apple landed on her body, it didn't startle her at all. How lovely to see her understanding that things that fall from the sky are good!

Rainbow in her post-op recovery cage:

As ever, indescribable pride and thanks for a team here in Chengdu who have literally taken this bear from the brink of death, to days that will at least see her well, contented and hopefully even happy.

I think of her mother – who may have been too frightened to approach after she was snared, and was possibly waiting until dusk or nightfall each night to approach the devastating scene of her young caught in the snare. A tragedy of selfish gain by cruel hunters that now leaves a mother somewhere in those mountains, alone and missing her cub.

As we talk urgently with wildlife experts both in China and internationally on the glimmer of a chance of releasing Rainbow back to the wild, our respect and thanks to Peng Zhou Forestry whose quick action and kindness has hopefully ensured that this yearling will survive, and to our most fantastic team for the love and care she receives as urgent decisions surrounding her future are made.

Click here to find out what happened to Rainbow next!


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