22 December 2016, 12:29PM
"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?"
In the words of John Lennon's classic tribute to peace at this time of year, there can be no greater gift than celebrating the peaceful lives of animals you have helped over these past 12 months.
Beautiful Rainbow, a wild trapped bear in China, now free again and back in the mountains of her wild… in peace.
A bear farm in Nanning now seeing its previously caged victims increasingly peaceful, healthy and well fed.
And peace for no less than 14 more bears rescued in Vietnam from their miserable lives on bear bile farms. Our latest rescues over the past few weeks now see bright and curious eyes at the approach of people, in so much contrast to how they must have shrunk back in their cages for decades in anticipation of the trauma to come. Jarai, Su Su, Dau Phu, Binh Minh, Winter, Bi Xanh, Po, Snow, Cranberry and Ivy, now recovering in quarantine, have just had their very first taste of Christmas shortbread biscuits – and, not surprisingly, loved every munch of their sweet, crunchy treat.
Peace too for terrified stolen dogs and cats in China, caged and en-route to the hideous live animal markets, now being confiscated and rescued in their thousands by brave local groups and by pro-active local authorities who acknowledge our evidence and the dark truth of criminality behind this trade.
The general public increasingly convinced of the power of "animal therapy" from our canine Dr Dog ambassadors, as they make their "rounds" in hospitals and homes for the blind, disabled and elderly in China and Hong Kong.
Tens of thousands of Chinese school children eagerly embracing their four-legged Professor Paws who lead a young revolution of animal ambassadors into the future.
So many wild animals held captive in the zoos of Vietnam and China – now with meaning to their previously solitary and miserable existence, as their management and care is enhanced through caring, practical programmes of enrichment. Finally given the choice of how to spend their days – busy, stimulated, content.
This is what you have done. And words can never, ever describe how grateful we are for the privilege of working in the field, on a mission of peace, with your faith and encouragement behind us.
Your Animals Asia family cheered this year as you walked, ran, jumped, swam, flew, and ran ever more imaginative events – all for the animals on this continent whose lives are immeasurably changed. Your actions, your letters, your calls, your kindness have never been more appreciated in this, our most challenging year and we know that if it weren't for you helping to drive these programmes every step of the way, so many successes would not have been reached.
Thank you for signing our petitions – against the ghastly pig festival in Vietnam, with an outcome that saved so much more than "just one pig..."
Another petition that saw possibly the biggest animal welfare story of the year – highlighting the plight of poor Pizza, a polar bear held in a dismal cell in a shopping centre. To date, over 800,000 signatures and counting.
Thank you to the students in Vietnam – who lined the streets of Hanoi as we brought our little sun bear Annemarie home... their banners and placards shouting loud and clear that they want bear farming to end.
And thank you for celebrating the life of Tuffy the bear – whose joy at finding himself in a true oasis after being deprived of water for a decade on a farm, saw over two million hits as he threw himself into the cool clear water, time and time and time again.
The biggest thank you must come from the bears themselves, as they show you the gratitude of their days, celebrating their new found peace and freedom. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare with the joy of a bear opening brightly-coloured gifts with all the excitement of a ten year old child.
In Chengdu, China, their presents had been lovingly wrapped by our bear and vet team staff – ably assisted by our various rescued dogs, Richter, Heizai, Muppet, ToZhai and Moonie in amongst the chaos as seeds, nuts and oodles of sticky peanut butter and jam were wrapped in brightly-coloured boxes, all ready for delivery to the bears’ enclosures the next day.
On a misty December morning, we laid out the boxes, high on platforms, perched precariously on trees and hid shortbread biscuits in hard to reach places, then held our breath as the den doors opened.
The bears didn't disappoint. Out they shuffled into a winter wonderland of gifts and festive treats. Elderly Douglas snaffled three boxes all to himself, burying his nose deep inside the contents, and coming up for air with sunflower seeds and peanut butter now randomly smeared all over his head.
Bonny continues to be utterly besotted with Prince, and trailed him relentlessly as he found and opened multiple boxes – flying at other bears who had the audacity to approach him. So determined to protect her Prince she picked on Douglas as he was mid-munch inside his box, and nipped him on his protruding end! Luckily for him she has hardly any teeth (losing them as a cub from biting the cage bars on the farm) – and food obsessed Douglas valiantly defended his prize.
Three-legged Harvey scored the first and last box of the day, and Freedom, with both her front paws missing, managed to hoover up the remains of several boxes once they'd been ripped apart and trashed by the other bears.
Peanut and Sunshine were seen sneakily carrying their boxes to places where they could be enjoyed in peace, and the whole area was wrapping paper carnage as the enclosure of House 4 now looked like the living room of a family of youngsters at Christmas time.
Meanwhile, Nic (our China Bear and Vet Team Director) and team have also been hard at work in Nanning this year. Helping over 120 bears on a previously-operating bear farm, and preparing for the day when we can rescue them all into our sanctuary in Chengdu. Now was the time to give all these happier and healthier bears their special treat of shortbread biscuits too.
Loving both the biscuit and Nic lavishing her with attention, Pickle Nicol shone in character and good health – her body and mind healing, her fur gleaming.
Florence, Finty, Smudge and the rest, relishing the sweet memory of kindness, long after the biscuits had gone. Our thanks to you all for your patience and your help as we continue to work behind the scenes to bring these bears home.
As Nic says of the past 12 months in Chengdu and Nanning:
"Christmas is always a time for reflection and looking back on 2016 I feel an enormous amount of respect and admiration for the team. We have faced the sad reality of an aging population of bears in Chengdu, but the team has embraced this with an enormous amount of professionalism and tender loving care. Further to this they have dealt with the challenges of managing half the bears in our care in a different location in Nanning, achieving great results for the bears there.
"Our team has also welcomed many volunteers to the sanctuary in our pilot programme, rescued and released Rainbow, and delivered a successful round of vet training to local Chengdu vets. They have assisted local facilities –providing much needed health treatment for a sick polar bear at Polar Ocean Park, and offering training to staff from Chengdu Zoo – facilitated veterinary specialist visits on site in Chengdu, not to mention time and time again delivering on all that goes into the daily care of the bears and sanctuary operations. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with this special group of people and proud to share with them much success against the odds."
The village dogs of Chengdu also got a Christmas surprise – in the form dog bic treats kindly bought and distributed by Vet Sheridan and Veterinary Intern Chen Si Wen! All year round our caring veterinary and bear staff, not to mention our wonderful volunteers, help to look after these dogs – de-sexing, de-worming and taking them for walks! These scruffy souls with characters as big as China, have also seen owners now understanding a little more about their welfare and care.
And so the ripples spread.
Over in Vietnam, the spoiling continued as our team there laid out Christmas boxes, beautifully painted piñatas, and shortbread biscuits too.
The ursine residents of House 4 were the first lucky recipients of these gifts, and again we held our breath as the den doors opened and the bears came bursting out onto the grass. Incredibly, they didn't rush straight to the decorated Christmas tree as we'd planned (note to self, remember what they say about working with children and animals!), but took their time grazing through their "normal" food, before finally realising that some extra special treats were in view.
Daisy and Nicole were the first to reach the tree and gleefully pulled down the piñatas and boxes – sitting happily in the sun as they gulped down the contents of their prize.
Our beautiful, hooligan sun bears, like Jigsaw above and Bridger and Guy below, wasted absolutely no time at all in wreaking havoc and wrecking their home... having a thoroughly brilliant time of it all, thank you very much!
Enjoy our smiling sun and moon bears here as they say thank you in their own unique way:
Heidi, our Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director has also added her summation of the year – again with our grateful thanks to you all for keeping us keeping on:
"With the rescue of 14 bears in 2016, the sanctuary is awash with feelings of hope and merriment – hope for the end of bear bile farming in Vietnam, and merriment for bears who will finally have a chance to fill their bellies with good food, enjoy the company of friends and indulge in afternoon naps beneath the sun. Looking ahead to 2017, we’re full of gratitude and admiration for our supporters across the world – their generosity, determination, and dedication to Animals Asia is key to ending the farming of bears for bile in Vietnam and China. From our family here at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre to yours – have the beariest of Christmases!"
That night we enjoyed a fabulous vegan Christmas dinner, mulled wine and a surprise visit from Santa Claus who delighted all the staff's children with little gifts and sweets, and cleverly spoke perfect Vietnamese!
Our endless thanks to Claudia and her Miomojo team in Italy for the most wonderful Christmas surprise too - as they gave all in the Vietnam team - and every single staff member across the world - a beautiful Miomojo tote or rucksack each as a treat for all their hard work.
And finally, in gratitude again for everything you do to keep this vitally important work moving forwards. For every meal the bears enjoy, for every surgery that removes their suffering, for every toy they clutch with glee, for every step they take, for every choice they make. For every minute of their freedom, contentment, and peace... ... ... ... thank you.
From us all in your Animals Asia family, we wish you the merriest festive season and a year ahead that is bursting with happiness and health – for you, and the animals we serve.
December 22, 2016
December 15, 2016
September 21, 2016
August 26, 2016
August 10, 2016