NO BEAR LEFT BEHIND – Bringing the Lotus Flower bears home

She was shivering in the corner of her cage. Her bulging eyes, suspicious, terrified and darting frantically back and forth, seeking somewhere else to hide, but knowing she was trapped. As she shrank farther into the corner and deeper into her own misery I wondered how she had survived each of the 20 years, the 7,300 days, shifting her body into different positions in a vain attempt to find comfort from the unrelenting bars that bruised her bones. 


So many times she would have been woken from an uneasy slumber, with people talking loudly in front of her, pulling a dart gun from a bag, firing a needle into her tender muscle and using ropes to restrain her.  She would then drift in and out of consciousness as the man with the long needle would try to locate her gall bladder, painfully puncturing surrounding organs until satisfied he'd found the liquid bag of gold, before sucking out her bile with a mechanical pump. 

Today the person standing in front of her spoke softly, and held a long spoon on which balanced a big dollop of strawberry jam. Her nose began to twitch and those bulging eyes focused on the treat in front of her as she placed one paw slowly in front of the other and moved cautiously towards the jam.  


Spoonful after spoonful found its way into her grateful mouth and, when some of the jam fell onto the cage bars below, she would rub her head in its sticky mass, like a cat with catnip, having never smelled or tasted anything so good.

I think she was the first named bear. We had a list of seven names representing beautiful lotus flowers for each of the bears caged on the farm. Clear Moon, Perry, Lavender, Carolina, King, Scarlet - and Cherry - which was the obvious choice for this bear with the cherry-sized eyes.

From the position of her cage in the corner of the shed she had a good viewpoint of all the other bears where, diagonally opposite, was a handsome and majestic male bear who also quickly earned his name of King. How were they both to know that, within just a few hours, they would be living in a completely different world.


But, for now, we had to tempt Cherry, King and the five others into the moving cages and out of that farm. Three of them, Clear Moon, Perry and Scarlet needed to be anaesthetised for the cage transfer because the cages just wouldn't fit safely together, and four were able to be coaxed into their rescue cages with the help of about half a tonne of that delicious strawberry jam.

sleeping bear

By 5pm we were driving away from the now empty bear farm, after thanking the Hanoi Forest Protection Department for confiscating 350 bottles of bear bile that the farmer had extracted from the bears in June, and for confiscating the bears now too.


We also shook the farmer's hand in a gesture that some may feel to be odd, given the years of suffering the bears had endured. However, our message to him and other farmers is that we will happily take their bears without judgment or embarrassment, and thus encourage a movement of kindness that increasingly sees more bears released from the farms.

Bach Ma Sanctuary Site

To finish this job, we must urgently ask for the vital funds needed to build Vietnam's last sanctuary to house the remaining 300+ bears. This coming week as we break ground in Bach Ma National Park together with high ranking government officials and our dearest UK ambassadors, actors and friends Peter Egan and Lesley Nicol, the message is clear that, as soon as the sanctuary can be built the sooner bears like Cherry and King can be rescued across the country, and all the farms shut down.

Rescue Team

My gratitude to our superteam on the rescue and our Animals Asia family worldwide. With two days notice to rescue these bears the heat was well and truly on, and the challenge was achieved. Heading up this campaign in Vietnam is a man we call our fearless leader, Dr Tuan Bendixsen who would be blushing now as bright as the bright red socks he wears. But, once again, he has done us and the bears proud and we have seven grateful recipients of healthy, tasty food, cooling showers, and medicines that will remove their pain.


With all seven lotus flower bears safely rescued and settled into quarantine, their eyes, their faces and their battered bodies seem to shine with the unspoken resolve of animals on a new journey of healing and happiness for the rest of their lives. Cracked and dry paws now gently hold apples, as damaged teeth bite down on something they've never enjoyed in their lives. And never again will the rattle of a food bowl signal the terror and pain of stealing their bile.


As King and Cherry now sit nose to nose in their roomy recovery cages, clucking gently to each other throughout the day, we want to thank you and offer our profound gratitude for staying with us, for helping us, and for please digging deep, until no bear is left behind.

With, as always, my eternal gratitude and love, Jill x