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

01 June 2021

In the largest operation of its kind, Animals Asia has just moved 101 moon bears from an ex-bear bile extraction and breeding facility in Nanning, China, to our bear rescue centre in Chengdu, 750 miles away.

This unprecedented, historic and momentous event has been eight years in the making. It has been the most challenging, unpredictable and emotional journey we have been on as an organisation. But we are at last able to share the joyous news with our amazing supporters, that the Nanning bears are finally home.

The long and winding road to freedom

Our story begins in 2013 at a huge bear breeding and bile farming facility in Nanning. Nanning is a beautiful, mountainous region of southern China.

The new owner of the land that the facility stood on, Mr Yan, was disturbed to find the then 132 bears in tiny, filthy and barren cages, having been used for bile extraction and breeding by the previous owner.

Mr Yan contacted Animals Asia to ask for our help, and there began a tumultuous eight-year journey to bring the bears home, with myriad legal and logistic challenges to negotiate and overcome.

But, today is a cause for celebration. We did it. 101 bears are home. And we simply couldn’t be happier or more grateful to all our loyal supporters for making this day a reality.

The final journey begins

Late on Friday 9 April, we received the news we'd been waiting for: the last permit allowing us to move the bears to our sanctuary in Chengdu had finally been signed!

In a huge feat of logistics, where Covid-19 could have disrupted plans at any moment, each bear was individually moved into a transport cage, loaded onto a truck and travelled the 750 miles from Nanning to Chengdu.

Animals Asia’s Founder and CEO Jill Robinson said:

“We’ve rescued hundreds of bears over the years, but no one has ever attempted anything on this scale before, bringing so many bears home to sanctuary in a single operation. We couldn’t have done it without our amazing Bear and Vet team in China, without the help of the local authorities and without the help of the local community too. But most importantly we could never have done this without you, our supporters, our donors, our family”.

The entire mission took place over three phases between 19 April and 27 May 2021, with the bears being transferred in three convoys of nine trucks, each carrying up to four transport cages.

Each leg of the operation took over 55 hours and was accompanied by Animals Asia’s specialist team of vets and bear carers to ensure the bears were kept safe and healthy along the way.

“We’re so proud of how the bears handled the journey,” said Animals Asia’s China Bear & Vet Team Director, Ryan Marcel Sucaet.

“Most of them have spent their entire lives in confinement. To be suddenly transported halfway across China could have been very distressing for them, but our team did an incredible job of keeping them calm, well fed, stimulated and comfortable along the way, as well as attending to their ongoing medical needs.”

Home at last

When we got the bears back to Chengdu, the real work began! Our sanctuary team has been preparing for the Nanning bears' arrival, preparing enclosures and planning group integrations.

The bears were placed into quarantine to slowly introduce them into their new life with its new and unfamiliar smells, sounds and surroundings. We need to monitor the bears’ progress and ensure they are both mentally and physically ready before we integrate them into the main sanctuary with other bears. However some bears in one section of the sanctuary have been able to venture out into a specially prepared enclosure.

Friends new and old

When we first arrived at Nanning, the bears were in separate cages. Over the years, we slowly introduced them to one or two other bears after getting to know their characters, needs and temperaments. 

At the sanctuary they will live with several other bears, some from Nanning and some established residents, based on their personality, age, body weight, health condition and gender. It sounds easy, but it will take our beautiful bears time to build trust and settle into their new environment and become fully integrated into sanctuary life. 

“We’re so excited to have them here,” said Ryan. “After nearly eight long years of waiting, and a lifetime of suffering, we can finally give these beautiful bears the lives they deserve.”

These bears need a lifetime of continual kindness and specialist care. If you’ve been inspired by their journey please consider becoming a monthly donor to help make every day special for a rescued moon bear.

We’ve just finished the move and we wanted to tell the world right away. We’ll be going into a lot more detail over the next month or so, introducing you to all of the bears who are now happily residing at our award-winning sanctuary in Chengdu and showing you how this massive undertaking was achieved!

Stay tuned!