Bears rescued on International Nurses Day named in honour of famous nurses from history

14 May 2020

On Tuesday 12 May our rescue team was called to a bile farm which was part of a restaurant in Vĩnh Yên city just north of Hanoi, Vietnam. We had been informed by the forest protection department that the farmer who had been keeping the two bears thought one was male and one female. We had conflicting reports about how long the bears had been on the farm but we were fairly sure that they had been held captive for at least 15 years.

Our team started to come up with ideas for possible names for the bears which would honour and appreciate all of the medical professionals around the world who are helping us all through this most difficult time, especially nurses. The first names that were considered were Florence and Walt, after Florence Nightingale, and Walt after Walt Witman.

Florence Nightingale was a British social reformer who was born in Italy but rose to prominence training nurses during the Crimean War and became known as the founder of modern nursing. Walt Witman was an American poet who served as a nurse in the American civil war to eradicate slavery.

The team at the rescue assessed the situation on site. The bears appeared relatively calm, perhaps because in addition to being farmed for their bile they were used as an attraction for the roadside restaurant. However, despite outwardly appearing calm, it wasn’t going to be possible to attach our transport cages to the farm cages to safely allow for a conscious transfer, so it was decided that the bears would be anaesthetised to get them out.

Unlock Florence's cageTeam brings Florence out of cage

When the rescue team brought out the first bear which had been reported prior to arrival to be male, they discovered that she was in fact female. So instead of calling the bear Walt it was decided to name her Clara after Clarissa Barton, a pioneering American nurse and civil rights advocate who founded the American Red Cross.

Kelly does health check for Clara

The farmer who was giving up the bears said that he had been regularly extracting bile but had done it less frequently in recent years as demand has fallen and the price has dropped. The farmer also said that he had begun to find it difficult to watch when the bile was extracted. He said he had turned down offers to sell the bears to others who wanted to kill the bears for their gall bladders and bones. We also discovered from glimpsing some old official paperwork that the bears had been held captive since they were 8 kilogram cubs in the year 2000. It was hard to believe that these two stoic bears had spent two whole decades in such limited confinement.

Then Florence was removed from her cage and given a brief health check before being loaded into the Animals Asia transport truck alongside Clara. Florence showed some signs of skin irritation and has some bald patches, and both bears look a bit thinner than they should be. In addition both bears were showing signs of needing dental work. Vet Surgeon Rachel Sanki sat alongside the bears for their journey to the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, leaving behind two empty cages.

Florence and Clara were soon united with the 185 bears already lovingly cared for at our Vietnam sanctuary. They are now housed in our quarantine area separately from recent arrivals Alice, Bân and James. Clara and Florence will spend the next 45 days adjusting to their new diets, new enrichment and new carers before they are introduced to their new den space and enclosures.

Clara is moved onto the truck 2

Bear and Vet Team Director Heidi Quine who was on the rescue said:

“These two sweet bears have been through a lot and obviously need lots of care and love to rehabilitate them. They’ve spent two decades in terrible conditions and we’re just learning about the physical and emotional trauma they’ve suffered. We’re really happy that the farmer had a change of heart, one that is indicative of a broader change happening in the minority of people who contribute to this industry or still keep bears captive here in Vietnam. The industry is coming to an end here as public opinion changes and demand for this cruel product dries up.

“We’re so pleased to have Florence and Clara with us. It feels like the stars aligning as we only discovered after the rescue that it was International Nurses Day and Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute, during this time when we’re all being reminded of the incalculable value of care and kindness in action.”

Please help give Florence and Clara a new life full of love and kindness.