Urgency, Bravery, Compassion: Kindness in Action

My trip back to China began with the taxi driver saying, "are you serious about going to Chengdu?" Quickly followed by "you know there's just been an earthquake there too!"... and my heart sank. Throughout these past two decades of our bear sanctuary operation we have seen multiple earthquakes (the first that tragically killed over 90,000 people in our province of Sichuan), flooding, a fire, and SARS. Luckily, while recorded as 5.2 on the Richter scale for this latest earthquake, there are no reports of any casualties to date.

On site at our China Bear Rescue Centre, of course everybody is scared. This is a horrible virus and spreading rapidly but, so far, our team is safe, morale is high and the bears are happy and well cared for too. While we've had to say goodbye to all but one of our wonderful volunteers, our ever amazing staff are on hand, pulling together and taking up additional roles.

Our experiences over these times, has taught us that we're stronger as a team, and I couldn't be more proud of them all. The sanctuary is on full bio security alert to prevent any contraction or spread of disease - we have beds, we have food for people and animals, and we have full hearts working together to get through these worrying days. We have a phenomenal team around the world, helping with emergency supplies and morale boosting messages, and we have you, our friends and supporters, who have helped to keep us safe and upbeat, through all the challenges of these past 20 years.

However, not surprisingly, there's a lot we don't, and won't have, soon - and these necessities will be forming the basis of urgent appeals as these days and weeks go on.

At the time of writing, the figures for the coronavirus are sadly rising, with the news today that over 1.300 people have died in China, surpassing the death toll from SARS. On the front line, our team on site are magnificent - arriving every morning to care for the bears, with some of them even walking long distances past barrier checkpoints in villages, when transport has been stopped. Far too many local Chinese staff to mention, heroes every one, as they brush off any praise and emphasise simply, that this is their job. This far too simplistic response belies the fierce loyalty and stamina of them all - little video clips with several of them this past week, showing their eyes shining and faces smiling as they articulated all that they do for the bears and the protection of the sanctuary; brave and determined and kind. In Nanning too, where our sister team are caring for over 100 bears at an ex bear farm, the story is the same - of wonderful group of dedicated people working through their fears and frustrations and ensuring the health and happiness of every single bear.

Every team needs a leader, and our founding member and China Director, Boris Chiao, together with our Bear and Vet Team Director, Ryan Sucaet, have the foundation's unending respect and gratitude for heading up the chaotic day-to-day operations, and looking after our teams on the ground with both calmness and integrity.

Boris and I have known each other for the past 26 years - like brother and sister, loving and falling out with each other in equal measures, as we stick together through good times and bad. Boris has sent his wife and daughter to the USA as he leaves his home in the city of Chengdu to live on site with our team - bringing his much loved cat Tudou (Potato) with him of course too. He has a critical role in the foundation, leading our China operation and the political side of our work; with every bear rescued as a result of his negotiation and sensitivity. Heading up a truly remarkable team, Boris is at the heart of all that we do.

Equally, Ryan is calm and capable and funny as he struggles with every new on-site issue that arises each day. As he puts out "one fire after another" he doesn't miss a beat, and bounces back after each crisis with a reassuring demeanor that would put the best diplomat to shame.

As the Embassies are urging our foreign staff to leave, they remain steadfast and stubborn through what must undoubtedly be fear......bless them all, for staying on site and refusing to budge. Once again the words "thank you" are so inadequate - when they are aware that the virus is showing no signs of disappearing at this current time and yet stay each day to care for the bears, our macaque and a variety of demanding cats and dogs. Many of them are qualified in medicine, knowing the consequences of their actions, and this, in itself, shows the bravery, loyalty and the stamina of the people they are.

Meanwhile, towns and cities across China are now establishing their own regulations in an attempt to contain the disease. Whole markets are being closed, and buildings are being locked down, with families told to elect members for leaving their homes and shopping for others during this time.

The local villagers are manning their own checkpoints, literally 24 hours each day. Our village is no different and each time staff come and go, we have infra-red thermometers checking temperatures and kindly locals waving us on. These people and the local authorities close to our sanctuary are working tirelessly to keep the coronavirus from the door -  while fanning out more widely into other towns and cities, the roads remain eerily empty of traffic and people, with shops and restaurants all closed.

Many will have read about the news that hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are affected as well. Mostly at the epicentre in Wuhan, as people who have been taken to hospital, or those trying to get back home after Chinese New Year but now banned from the city, are unable to look after their companions. Many had left them with neighbours, who have also been forced to flee. Our Cat and Dog Welfare Team are assisting the groups on the ground, who are breaking into houses and apartments and leaving as much food and water as they can, before going on to the next. The situation hasn't been helped by rumours that dogs and cats can spread the virus too, despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) announcement saying the reverse. To that end, Dr Jin from the Chinese Agriculture University, has also recently reinforced that "dogs and cats will not be infected with the coronavirus".

Meanwhile, supplies are often impossible to buy, while others are constantly increasing in price.  Endless thanks to our colleagues in other countries for helping to source vitally important face masks and sanitizers, when the whole world seems to have run out. Every single day is different - as new challenges emerge.

As it spreads in China, the cases in Vietnam are rising too - and are uncomfortably close to our sanctuary. Our Bear and Vet Team Director there, Heidi Quine, reports Vietnam’s 15th case is now being quarantined in the town of Tam Dao, which is literally just a few miles away, and nine of the fourteen cases are in our province of Vinh Phuc. Once more, another village of heroes - living the present and preparing for the worst.

As of Saturday 8th February, Hong Kong SAR, with 26 confirmed cases, has now brought in a mandatory 14 days quarantine for anyone returning from anywhere in China. Hence my dash on Friday from Chengdu to get back, before leaving for fundraising events in the USA in a couple of weeks, asking for help to source and buy urgent provisions.

Please, please keep your eyes out for our messages and appeals. We are all endlessly grateful to supporters across the world who, from messages we can see flooding in, are with us in solidarity every step of the way. We've had emergencies before but this is critical and frightening as we continue to work with a skeleton team and with diminishing supplies -  focused on our promise to keep our staff, our sanctuary and our bears, all safe - until the crisis ends.

comments powered by Disqus