#FiveLives: Pain ends and new hopes emerge for five bears rescued from bile farm cruelty

11 September 2018

Just a week after being rescued from a bear bile farm in Vietnam, all five bears have received health care allowing beautiful personalities to emerge.

Moon bears Mai, Star, Mekong, LeBON and Kim suffered at least 13 years of cruelty on a bear bile farm in Vietnam.

They were kept in small concrete cages so that their bile could be extracted for use in traditional medicine.

This extreme captivity, devoid of any stimulation and unable to express natural behaviours, left the bears traumatised and their bodies broken.

But since being rescued by Animals Asia a week ago, their lives have already changed completely. Each bear has had their pain taken away and their needs addressed by a team of vets and carers.

And already, each bear’s beautiful personality is starting to emerge as they adjust to a life free of pain, where their needs come first and where natural behaviours are encouraged every day.

Bear Manager, Sarah van Herpt, who oversees the bears’ daily care, knows them best and has taken the time to tell us how they are getting on:


“Mai is a small, calm bear who sadly has cataracts in both eyes. Medical checks have revealed she may have some small degree of vision – perhaps around 10% of a healthy bear – but she is essentially blind.

“The cataracts are likely the result of consistently high levels of stress in captivity along with a lifetime of being fed inappropriate foods such as rice gruel on the bile farm.

“But there is strong hope that her condition is operable. In time, she’ll be evaluated by a specialist and everyone is hoping Mai will one day be able to see clearly again.

“Thankfully, Mai isn’t showing outward signs of psychological trauma and is confident enough to sleep while her carers are around. She has loved playing with the enrichment items which are designed to stimulate her mind, and we often find her rolling around on her back like she hasn’t a care in the world. She loves being hosed down on hot days and proudly presents her little belly for a splashing.”


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“Lovely LeBON is a large, lean bear with humongous paws and a broad chest. Vets found that he has a large area of retinal degeneration in both of his eyes which may be affecting his vision.

“While his eye issues are likely the result of ageing, LeBON’s most serious problem is the horrific state of his mouth.

“He is suffering from severe dental disease and all four of his large canine teeth were fractured, which must have caused agony for years.

“The vet removed the most severely affected tooth and LeBON will be fast-tracked to see a dental specialist as soon as possible.

“Sadly, LeBON is the most nervous of the five bears, but with every day his shaky steps and nervous huffs are reducing and his confidence is increasing.

“He is a very handsome bear who loves showers – even on the side of his face – but he is a very fussy eater. So far, he just seems to want to eat apple and will move other food away until he has hoovered up every bit of apple he can find.”


“Dear, sweet Star is a slightly sad looking male and at the bear farm we could see that he was very thin. Loose skin hangs off him – indicative of weight loss and more serious underlying health conditions – and his coat is patchy. I’ve noticed him rubbing his ears and face which also implies he is itchy.

“Inactivity on the farm over so many years has caused his muscles to waste away and his bones protrude through his loose skin showing prominent hip bones, ribs and back.

“He is a large bear, and we know that with time and love and lots of delicious fresh food he will gain weight and fill out into a beautiful bear.

“On the hospital table we discovered his teeth are in a horrible condition. Two lower molars as well as all four canine teeth and some upper incisors all needed dental work, with many having to be extracted. He was having trouble eating on the journey home to sanctuary and this confirms exactly why. He was in agony. Thankfully, our vet nurse Kat conferred with our vets and the decision was made to administer pain relief en route, which has continued in quarantine.

“He’ll be on pain medications until we can bring him back in to take care of the remaining broken teeth, and at least one of them will have to be seen by the dental specialist.

“Star’s poor health continues on the inside with an ultrasound exam revealing he has cystic kidneys. It seems likely the right kidney has very little normal structure at all. Luckily, blood tests show that he has normal kidney function and we’ll monitor him closely for any changes.

“Despite all he’s suffering, Star loves all the toys and browse we give him every day. He’s like a little kid splashing in his water bowl and the team are constantly refilling it for him so he can play even more. We can already feel trust beginning to build with this open-hearted guy.

“This poor, skinny boy is so sweet. When we look into his eager eyes, we hope that he understands that his trust in us is warranted, and that we’ll do anything for him.

“The resilience of these bears continues to confound us. After so many years on that terrible farm, surrounded by suffering, how can he just trust and show us his amazing soul so quickly? How was that not shattered along with his teeth years ago? It’s the magic of these bears that keeps us fighting for them.”


“Mekong is a handsome bear, with long chest and legs. During his health check vets found he had severe dental disease: three incisor teeth were loose, three of his four canines were badly fractured, and four of his large molar teeth were worn beyond repair.

“Dental disease is all too common in bile farm bears. An unsuitable diet allows plaque to build up while consistently high levels of stress over many years further weakens the teeth. Of course, many bears also vainly bite at the bars of their cruel cages which finishes off many already fragile teeth.

“Due to the extreme nature of his dental disease, Mekong will continue on pain relief until we remove the rest of his badly damaged teeth at his next health check.

“We also found that Mekong had a shaved patch of hair on his abdomen – an indication that he had recently been tapped for bile on the farm. He was likely made to suffer to the last as the farmer looked to extract every cent out of his damaged body. But that’s all over now and gives us added resolve to give Mekong the best of everything to speed his recovery.

“Mekong isn’t a fussy eater and will hoover up anything as long as it has been blended so it doesn’t hurt his teeth. Since beginning quarantine, he’s loved all the play toys we bring him, particularly puzzle feeders. He’ll play with these for a long time, even after all the food is gone.


“Due to the design of her cage, Kim had to be anaesthetised for removal from the farm. The health check performed on site revealed half of Kim’s tongue had been torn out in years ago – bitten off by a neighbouring bear according to the farmer.

“She is a little bear who weaved her body repeatedly on the farm in an obvious sign of mental anguish and was seen biting the bars of her farm cage in frustration and desperation to escape.

“Thankfully, we’ve already seen this behaviour cease now that she is safe in sanctuary.

“Both upper and the left lower canine teeth are fractured and rotten as is typical of this group of bears. We were able to remove all of the fractured canines, so her mouth should feel better once everything heals.

“Obviously, Kim will have difficulty eating without her tongue for the rest of her life, but we have at least two other bears at the sanctuary with similar conditions and they continue to forage like all the other bears.

“Kim really is a sweet girl and despite how afraid and she was when we first met her, she is now the most curious and social bear in the group. She’s always curious when her carers are around and when she was wheeled to health check she just loved watching the world go by. I can’t wait to see what kind of bear she blossoms into over the coming months.”

Our work doesn’t end when a bear is rescued. That’s when it really begins…

A gift from you today could help support the weeks and months of intensive care and rehabilitation facing Kim, Mekong, LeBON, Mai, and Star. Could you help mend these brave bears?`