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Animal welfare icon Virginia McKenna OBE adopts rescued moon bear

06 November 2018

Virginia meets Bi Do 1

Actress and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna visited Animals Asia’s Vietnam bear sanctuary to support efforts to end bear bile farming.

Virginia McKenna OBE, a UK patron of Animals Asia and founder of Born Free Foundation, visited Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre late last month  and adopted a 17-year-old moon bear.

The bear, named Sinh, by Virginia, was rescued in 2015 by Animals Asia from a bear bile farm where she suffered for at least 10 years.

All that time, she was kept alone in a small, barren cage so that her bile could be extracted for use in traditional medicine. She was unable to express any natural behaviours and never walked on grass.

Now Sinh lives in a community of 12 bears in a large outdoor enclosure at Animals Asia’s sanctuary filled with climbing structures, pools and trees where she can forage for her food and play with her bear friends. Today the sanctuary is bursting with 200 rescued bears.

Virginia McKenna said:

“I have just returned from my second visit to Animals Asia's bear sanctuary in Vietnam. As before, I felt enveloped in the atmosphere of peace and contentment as I watched the bears play, rest and forage – in stark contrast to the existence they had endured in the fearful prison cages.  

“I was privileged to watch one of the bears having her health check under sedation, and can't express strongly enough my admiration for the kindness and care of the whole team.  

“Then, I was thrilled to be invited to name this bear.  So – her name is 'Sinh', which means 'Born'.  Before she came to the sanctuary she was not really living.  Just existing, enduring, suffering... Now her life has truly begun – she is born again.”

Virginia has been a long-term supporter of Animals Asia and was pivotal to the founding of the organisation in 1998.

Virginia visits the herb garden

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“Virginia is a dear friend and a major inspiration. When I was debating whether to start a foundation to oppose bear bile farming, I asked Virginia for advice. Her direct and passionate words steered everything from there, when she said: ‘Just do it’. So I did. And as a result of her advice, Animals Asia has since rescued over 600 bears.”

The trip was the second time Virginia had visited Animals Asia’s Vietnam sanctuary, having made the journey in 2010.

Since then, the fate of bears on Vietnam’s bile farms has improved immensely. In 2017, the government signed a legally binding contract with Animals Asia which will see every farm close and every bear sent to sanctuary by 2022.

Jill said:

“The progress we’ve seen since Virginia’s last visit is just incredible. Back then we were still fighting to be heard, still beseeching the authorities to take concrete action. Today, we work hand in hand with a government fully committed to ending the shame of bear bile farming and shutting the industry down forever.”

In 2017, Virginia accepted Jill’s Outstanding Contribution prize at the UK’s Animal Hero Awards as Jill was unable to attend the London event hosted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

Virginia McKenna’s successful acting career is most notable for her starring role in the classic film, “Born Free” in 1966. She went on to co-found the Born Free Foundation in 1984 with her husband Bill Travers. The foundation, which advocates that all wild animals, whether in captivity or the wild, are treated with compassion and respect, is now run by her son, Will Travers OBE.