One of the original rescued bears from the Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre, Freedom, passes away after 20 years at our sanctuary.

30 March 2020


Even during the on-going and devastating coronavirus crisis, life at our sanctuary in China goes on, and sadly so does death. The number one priority of the bear care and vet teams at our rescue centres is to give the bears we rescue the best lives possible, full of enrichment, friendship, comfort and love. Their second and in many ways more difficult priority is to give our bears, many of whom have suffered extreme trauma in captivity or capture, the best possible end of life when the time comes.

Sadly bears passing is a fact of life and our sanctuaries eventually become bear hospices for chronically ill, elderly or infirm bears. Every bear has their own unique story and character and Freedom was in some ways luckier than most. As she was rescued as a cub she was never subjected to the process of bile extraction for which she was captured. She overcame the disability inflicted upon her by the snares her captors set and she went on to spend 20 magical years at the Chengdu Bear Rescue Centre (CBRC) in China as one of the first bears rescued to the sanctuary.

Animals Asia Founder & CEO, Jill Robinson said:

“Our little Freedom has broken and won so many hearts over these years and given her family of carers some of the best days of our lives. She arrived at the end of 2000 - seeing gasps of shock at the sight of her two missing front paws after she was trapped illegally somewhere out in the wild. As a youngster, she will inevitably have seen her mother killed too and yet she became a bear of the most beautiful trust and character as she settled into life at CBRC.  Over the years, it was Prince who really stole her heart and they had periods of deep closeness, especially when Bonny wasn't around protecting her ruggedly handsome Prince.

“Freedom was one of the most stunning bears we’ve seen.  Easily identifiable, not because she was missing those paws, but because of her exquisitely beautiful face and the ebony black ruff that fanned out around her like a shawl. An inquisitive and curious bear, she could always be seen bunny hopping around the enclosure, or sitting upright in her teddy bear pose. “

Freedom sitting

For our bear care teams the passing of a bear who they’ve looked after for many years can be a very emotional experience. Every time an animal in our care passes the tributes flow in and none more so than for Freedom.

Bear Team Manager Molly Feldman said:

“Freedom was an absolute legend at CBRC. She lived an amazingly long life and was fortunate to spend the majority of it at CBRC. She stole the hearts of everyone that knew her, staff and volunteers alike. I’ll never forget the face of every person I’ve introduced her to, watching them all wince in horror at the realization that she was basically a double amputee (missing most of her left forearm and right forepaw). But she never let this stop her and she lived a completely normal life in a large group. She repeatedly held her own against some rather formidable characters (eh hem…Bonny, Chi, Ki, Marie, Sunshine, the list goes on!). However like so many others, in the end her body was just not holding up anymore and we were powerless to help her. As her name implies, Freedom was truly a representative of the work we do and the life we wish to be able to give to so many others in the future. Rest in peace sweet girl.”

The process of reaching the decision to end the suffering of a bear that is in pain is never taken lightly and it involves lots of people, including the Bear Carers, Bear Team Supervisors, Vet Nurses, Vets, Bear Team Managers and the Bear and Vet Team Director. They hold several Quality of Life discussions in between trailing different behavioural management and medical management techniques before reaching a final decision together.

Senior Vet Surgeon, Eddie Drayton said:

“Despite the horrific start to her life, Freedom was one of the happiest bears at our centre. She was flirtatious with the other bears and active, and never hindered by her disability. She used her stumps in the most creative way, learning to climb poles by placing her stumps into the holes intended for enrichment. She surprised us all, and it was only last year that she started to show signs of decline. 

“Late last year Freedom started elbow walking on her forelimbs, indicating that her previous way of moving was now causing pain and discomfort. At first she responded to the pain relief and rest we gave her, but the elbow walking became a recurrent event, and soon she stopped responding to the medication we had available. We consulted with specialists to see if there was anything more that could be done for Freedom. We performed multiple health checks, and even took Freedom for a CT scan so we could better understand her condition. But ultimately there was nothing more that could be done, and Freedom began to show signs of declining wellbeing. She was no longer the happy, easy going bear we had all come to love. It was at this time our team came to the most difficult but necessary decision to say goodbye to Freedom. 

“She passed peacefully and quietly under the anaesthesia. Her post-mortem revealed chronic changes to her joints as well as ulceration of her stomach - a sign that her body was no longer coping with the medication she was receiving, or the stress of her condition. 

“Freedom was an iconic bear, and will never be forgotten. I imagine she is now in the sky above us, roaming the cloudy forests with all four limbs intact, climbing trees and chasing the boys, the way it should have always been.”

 Freedom and Harvey in bed

Team members at CBRC took a moment to reflect on the life of their beloved Freedom and the tributes continued flowing in, like this from Bear Team Manager, Rocky Shi who said:

“Freedom had smooth fur all over her body and clear, watery eyes, looking very cute. Though she had no forepaws, it didn't affect her normal foraging and activities; she could even climb the platform and man-made rocks. Only because recently her mobility issue had become severe enough to affect her normal life, we had no other choice but to say goodbye to her. Hope that she could live a healthy, happy life in heaven.”

Everyone on the team had their favourite memory of Freedom, like this from Resident Vet, Rachel Sanki:

“One of the most incredible things I saw at CBRC, just after starting, was watching Freedom climb a tree stump at house 4. Rocky and myself were watching the bears head out to forage that morning and both noticed Freedom trying to reach a sweet treat too high up on the top of a stump. We both initially felt bad that she couldn't reach it but then she shocked us by shoving each of her forepaw stumps into notches on the tree stump...and performing the most impressive pull-up to knock the treat down with her nose! 

“Although I feel the loss of our lovely girl deeply, we can take solace in knowing she had a long life at sanctuary and that we gave her a final kindness in letting her go. Seeing her reluctance to move for any treats during the day really felt like her way of saying she'd had enough now. RIP Freedom, I hope you're now whole again and can run and climb to your heart's content.”

Freedom surrounded by those who cared for her

Bear & Vet Team Director, Ryan Marcel Sucaet said:

“No lies, Freedom was easily one of my favourites. She was everyone’s favourite! She is that bear you only need to meet for a single moment and you would never forget her. Our only two-legged bear, part of the original rescue, a stunning face with the attitude to match. She was gentle, and lovely and had this glimmer in her eyes. I knew if I was a bear I would befriend and protect her. 

“Freedom did have suitors over the years and she was sometimes sneaky about it too. A great one was Prince who was constantly being protected by another female bear, Bonny. But when Bonny got stuck in hospital for a health check for two days, Freedom would pounce on Prince. She loved him, and he her, but it was almost like a soap opera scandal affair. A two-legged bear mistress.

“Watching her decline was hard for us. She was completely engulfed in a group of people who only had love and compassion for her when she left this world. We were all also wearing our surgery masks due to the coronavirus and by the end, mine had pooled with tears. Several members of the team stayed around, unwilling to let go of her and laughed over the memories Freedom bestowed on us. “

Jill, who was present at Freedom’s funeral had the last word:

“Thank you to our remarkable, caring team CBRC  - you gave her the best years of her life. Rest in peace sweet Freedom, from your family who love you, Jillx”