No Bear Left Behind: Animals Asia promises to Leave No Bear Behind in biggest challenge to date

23 May 2022

Little did Jill Robinson know what was in store when she made a promise to end bear bile farming almost 30 years ago. 

In that time, Animals Asia - the charity she founded to keep that promise - has been through some challenging times that have demanded the tenacity, resilience and dedication it has become so well known and respected for.

Let’s look back on a few of those events…

5. Floods at China Bear Rescue Centre

In the summers of 2013 and 2020 our bear sanctuary in Chengdu was on high alert as China experienced an astonishing amount of rainfall, causing localised flooding and affecting millions of people and animals. 

The banks of the River Pi which runs alongside the sanctuary burst in 2013, forcing the staff to evacuate some bears to the hospital, the sanctuary’s highest point. 

For the next few days the sanctuary ran on a skeleton staff who assessed the risk outside while keeping the bears safe, happy and stimulated, camping overnight next to the evacuees.

Unfortunately, the sanctuary experienced some damage which our wonderful supporters helped to repair, and before long the sanctuary was back to normal.

In 2020 the sanctuary team once again woke up to incredible storms and to find the River Pi running worryingly high. 

Luckily, the banks didn’t burst this time but the team secured the bears safely in their dens and prepared to implement the emergency flood protocols from 2013.

The rain eventually passed, the land dried up, and the bears ventured back outside, blissfully unaware of the drama that had been unfolding just a few feet away.

4. Ending elephant riding in Dak Lak, Vietnam

Animals Asia has campaigned for an end to elephant riding, which sees thousands of elephants taken from the wild or born into captivity and forced into a life of labour, for over a decade.

In 2021, we signed an official agreement with the Dak Lak government in Vietnam - where the vast majority of elephant riding camps are - to end the outdated industry in its region.

This incredible achievement is the work of Captive Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale and his team, who have worked tirelessly with Vietnamese locals, elephant owners and authorities to look for mutually beneficial alternatives to the practice. 

As you can imagine, ending an industry on which thousands of families have depended for hundreds of years, one that is ingrained in the country’s psyche and is synonymous in the minds of travellers with parts of Asia, had its challenges. 

But, by putting courage, empathy, tenacity, and respect in action, Dave’s team has changed the lives of hundreds of elephants and mahouts, and changed the face of tourism in Vietnam.

3. Facing eviction 

In 2012, just four years after our Vietnam bear sanctuary opened, we were shocked and devastated to hear that the director of the park on which the sanctuary stood wanted to build a holiday resort on the land. 

We were being evicted.

This news marked the beginning of one of the most challenging, worrying and tense periods in Animals Asia’s history. 

Jill remembers it well, “we were in the most awful position. Bears who had been enjoying their freedom after being caged on bile farms would have had to go back in recovery cages while we tried to find land and build another sanctuary.”

And so began a global campaign to urge the Vietnamese government, who Animals Asia had partnered with to establish the sanctuary, to intervene. 

Tens of thousands of our supporters across the world contacted the Vietnamese government, including actress Ali MacGraw who flew over to support the team… and we won!

After three long months, the government issued a communiqué that stated the sanctuary should stay where it was and should continue its life-saving work and ultimate aim to end bear bile farming in the country. 

2. Nanning: 750 miles, 101 bears, eight years, one dream

Spring 2021: Animals Asia supporters across the world watched with bated breath as our China rescue team carried out the seemingly impossible: moving 101 adult bears 750 miles from an ex-bile farm to our sanctuary in just 39 days

This operation, to date the most challenging in Animals Asia’s history, had been eight long, tumultuous years in the making. In 2013 the new owner of the land on which Nanning bile farm sat contacted Animals Asia to ask if we could help the bears. 

Our initial idea was to turn the ex-bile farm into a sanctuary - our second in China. But our plans were thwarted and so we did all we could to make the bears as comfortable, safe and happy as possible while we worked out an alternative plan.

The most obvious alternative was to transport them all to our sanctuary, 750 miles away. But that seemed incredible… almost impossible.

And yet, after eight years of uncertainty, jubilation, and heartbreak, our tenacious team who gave up so much to look after the Nanning bears did exactly that.

These bears, who had suffered so much, who waited patiently for so long for their moment in the sun, all arrived safely at our China bear sanctuary in May 2021. They are finally home

1. Ending bear bile farming in Vietnam

After almost three decades of campaigning against the bear bile farming industry, Animals Asia is about to close the last door on the last bile farm in Vietnam.

It’s a race against time to rescue the few hundred bears who still live in cages across the country, waiting patiently, but desperately, to be saved.

Our current sanctuary in Tam Dao is full, so before we can go and get the bears who are still out there, we have to build them a new sanctuary.

The Vietnamese government is with us, the local people are with us, and you are with us. With your help, with your tenacity, empathy, respect, courage, and kindness, we will rescue every last one and end bear bile farming in Vietnam forever.