101 bears home: Meet Smudge, the last bear to be born at Nanning bile farm

22 June 2021

This is a story of hope. Of what can be achieved when you put tenacity, courage, empathy and respect into action. But ultimately, it’s 101 individual stories. And today we hear how one very special bear went from being a tiny, wide-eyed and terrified cub to a confident, healthy and handsome bear.

This is Smudge’s story.

Nanning bile farm and breeding facility

Back in 2014 Nanning bile farm was a very different place to today. The huge, dark, concrete sheds housed rows upon rows of cages that held 132 moon bears. The purpose of the farm was to routinely extract bile from the bears’ gall bladders to be sold for traditional medicine while breeding the next generation of bile bears.

Smudge was the last bear to be born at Nanning. She was taken away from her mum when she was born and put in a bird cage - the bars of a regular-sized bear cage were too big for her tiny body. 

Showering Smudge with love

When Animals Asia’s vet and bear care team arrived at Nanning, we found four-month old Smudge in a humid, pitch-dark cell at the back of a concrete yard. She was terrified and had wounds on her nose from rubbing against the bars of her cage. She was crying for her mum. 

Heidi Quine, now Bear and Vet Team Director at our Vietnam sanctuary, then Senior Bear Manager at Nanning, recalls the moment vividly:

We could hear crying coming from the yard we were standing outside. I insisted the farm worker open the door to the yard. We found Smudge alone, whimpering and shaking. Against better judgement I rushed in, scooped her up and held her against my chest. She was so helpless and so desperate for her mother she immediately calmed down.”

From that moment on, Smudge was showered with love and attention from every member of our team. We never wanted her to feel alone again.

Sponsor Smudge today to give her a lifetime of love, care and happiness:

The early years

We moved Smudge to a yard where she had a paddling pool, climbing frame and lots of tasty snacks and enrichment items to stimulate her young, growing mind and body.

As with all animals, the first few years of life are crucial for physical, psychological and emotional development, so our team gave Smudge as much love and attention as we could to fill the void that was left when she lost her mother.

Our former Bear Team Manager, Rocky, played the role of mum and taught her to climb on the structure we made for her - she was a natural and was soon clambering all over her enclosure. 

Smudge grows up

Smudge soon grew into a healthy, robust and confident bear. She and her den-mate, Wai Kee loved playing, splashing around in the pool and enjoying cool hose showers together. They were tender towards each other too, gently patting each other on the head as they passed by to say hi. 

It was amazing to see Smudge’s character emerge and her confidence grow, even though she was still in a restricted and unnatural environment. 

Heidi remembers, “Smudge was so active and inquisitive. She would rush to the front of the yard to say hello to us. It was beautiful to watch her develop and grow into a strong, playful and happy bear.”

Smudge’s journey home

In April 2021 we finally got the news we’d been waiting so long for: we could move Smudge and her 100 friends to our sanctuary in Chengdu. She walked quickly and confidently into her transport cage and sat down as if to say “OK, let’s go!”

Jill Robinson, Animals Asia founder and CEO picks up the story of that momentous day: “Smudge was the very last bear to be loaded into her transport cage. It was such a historic moment considering she was rescued as a tiny cub and has known nothing but the bars around her.”

While on the road, Smudge and her friends were given lots of tasty treats and enrichment to keep them comfortable and occupied through the 750-mile journey from Nanning to Chengdu.

Smudge’s new life begins

Thanks to the kindness of our wonderful supporters around the world, Smudge and her friends have made it to our Chengdu sanctuary! As the last bears to be moved in our month-long mission, Smudge and best friend Wai Kee are still in quarantine, waiting eagerly but patiently to settle into their new home.

Senior Bear Team Manager, Molly Feldman updated us on Smudge’s progress: “Smudge is doing really well. She’s been very relaxed and is enjoying all the enrichment items and tasty treats we’re giving her. Just tonight I was feeding her peanut butter from a spoon which she loved!”

We can’t wait for Smudge to feel grass under her paws for the first time in her life, to feel the sun on her face and finally, get to be a bear that forages and plays and thoroughly enjoys life.

By sponsoring Smudge you can be with her through this exciting new phase of her life and be an important part of her development as she continues to grow into the beautiful, carefree bear she was always meant to be.

Read more:

Why Smudge needs love

Confident cub Smudge’s bright personality

Animals Asia brings 101 bears home in largest ever operation of its kind