Goodbye Caesar, your strength and supreme intelligence taught us so much

06 December 2017

Caesar was rescued from a bile farm where she endured a medieval form of torture - but after 13 years of freedom, she has succumbed to cancer.

There are untold reasons why bears steal our hearts.

Maybe it’s because of their heartbreaking stories or the crippling injuries they have suffered on bile farms during a lifetime of unimaginable torment. Maybe it’s because of their feistiness or shyness or weakness for ice lollies and splashing around in the pool.

Caesar was, without a doubt, a very special bear who left a lasting impression on anyone lucky enough to meet her.

Like the Roman general after whom she was named, Caesar commanded respect and weighing up to 300kg, she had a physical strength and stature that made her a formidable presence.

Yet she was quite a different bear in February 2004 when Animals Asia rescued her from a farm in Tianjin, northern China, where she had been caged for nine years as her bile was mercilessly extracted over and over again.

Caesar in Tianjin cropped

The team discovered Caesar shivering in a bitterly cold brick outhouse. Her cage was rusty and so small she could hardly move, but what horrified the crew even more as they cut through the cage was the metal jacket she had been forced to wear all these long miserable years.

Caesar caged

The jacket secured a metal box and crude latex catheter which pushed right into her gall bladder through a festering wound that was never allowed to heal. Like a torture device from the Middle Ages, it crushed her body while a spike in the jacket poked into her throat, preventing her from biting down and trying to remove it.

While bear bile farming is still legal in China, these metal jackets which can weigh up to 10kg are considered too extreme to be permitted.

Eager to get Caesar as far away as possible from this farm of horrors, her carers gave her a quick health check before securing her onto a truck for a three-day road trip through driving rain and steep snow-covered mountain passes to Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Chengdu.

New beginning

With the barbarity that taints so much of the bear bile industry behind her, Caesar revelled in her new life.

She quickly established herself as having one of the finest noses for treats at the sanctuary. Whether hidden under leaves, inside a log, wrapped up in newspaper or even at the bottom of her swimming pool, Caesar was sure to find food - almost immediately.

Caesar shakes his body

Caesar was also renowned - as Bear Manager Molly Feldman put it - for her digging abilities and her supreme intelligence.

Caesar is foraging

Preferring a more solitary lifestyle as brown bears do in the wild, Caesar loved to dig huge tunnels by herself, some of them big enough to fit cars. Staff would often re-fill these holes with logs, soil and smaller rocks but she’d have dug them back out again within a day.

Caesar's tunnel

In the end, despite the happiest and most contented life, the terrible conditions she was made to endure on that bile farm eventually manifested itself in an aggressive tumour which was discovered last month.

Tragically, cancer is not uncommon among rescued bears, the likely result of cell damage from surgical mutilation and infection from repeated bile extraction on the farms.

OLD Caesar dirty face after digging

Shortly after her cancer was confirmed, Caesar passed away and Animals Asia lost a legendary member of their family.

Rest in peace, magnificent Caesar. We will never forget you.

Here are some tributes from the carers who knew and loved her best:

“I adored Caesar, and her indomitable spirit. Her refusal to do anything she didn't want to - that "look" coming into play when she simply wanted to remind us that it was all on her terms. Her habit of walking away without a backward glance from a naive trainer in the early days (hands up) when it became so obviously boring for her intelligent mind. Her determination each year to dig the biggest holes outside and hunker down for the winter, before she trained us to build ‘Caesar's bunker’ in order that she could enjoy a proper den to snooze outside for days. Those mighty paws, fur of so many different hues of brown as winter turned into spring, that unmistakable ‘earthy’ smell of her species from yards away. The bear who made you shiver in awe in her presence - everything about her that says ‘I miss you’ today.” - Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson MBE                                                                

“Stoic until the end, Caesar’s passing left all at CBRC reeling. She was a symbol of everything wrong with bear farming but she was also always a symbol of hope and what good can be achieved. It was an honour to know her.” - China Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field

“In the end, she was surrounded by a family who loved her and gave her the grace to pass on and free her from her pain. I know you'll never forgive me for jabbing and darting you with the anaesthetic Caesar - you were such a smart bear there was no fooling you - but I'll always respect you and never forget everything you've taught me.” - Resident Vet Rachel Sanki

“Since Caesar’s passing I’ve walked by the brown bear enclosures multiple times and her absence is palpable. When I go to check on Iris I still expect to see two bears there, not one. My emotions then get the better of me and I find myself fighting back the tears over and over again. For so many reasons, Caesar was truly one of a kind. But it was her extremely discerning nature that made her so special. It is for this reason that she was able to thrive under our care given the horrific abuse she faced in her former life. She absolutely knew who was there to help her and who wasn’t, and didn’t forget if you did something to her she didn’t like. It was an honor to feel like she trusted you, to be someone she was allowing in.” - Bear Manager Molly Feldman

“Give her a whole coconut and watch her smash it into pieces under the weight of her paw as if it was a tomato. Hear her growl and you are quickly reminded of how insignificant and inferior you are in comparison. Caesar even had an awareness of death. Most likely due to smell, but she would do a specific bouncing behavior whenever we had a funeral for other bears. Everything about her made her legendary.” - Bear Manager Ryan Sucaet

“Caesar was the first bear I got to know when I started working here. She was a huge brown bear. I took care of her for more than two years and I was exceedingly happy during that time. Caesar was cheerful, good-natured and strong. She used to walk or run with us along the perimeter fence. When she heard us calling, especially when she was playing in the enclosure, she would run to us. Caesar was very skillful at digging on grassland or by the pool. She could dig gigantic holes tirelessly, sometimes too focused to even remember her own dinner. We were so concerned when Caesar started showing signs of illness. We observed her closely every day and medicated her with great care. But her condition continued to worsen and in the end, she left us. Farewell, Caesar. I hope you live a happy life in Heaven. Please look upon the others and give them strength and love.” - Bear Team Supervisor, Ou Jun

“Arriving here five months ago with the limited knowledge I had about the sanctuary, I was ecstatic to find out that I would be nursing brown bears as well as moon bears. It took me awhile to get a clear view of Caesar as she was often resting in the shade of the bamboo trees or in a freshly dug hole but when I saw her, my heart raced with excitement. Oh how magnificent she was and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. Over these months getting to know her and her idiosyncrasies has been my pleasure. Caesar took up all of my time during the days she was hospitalised because everything had to be just right, and on her terms at all times. I am grateful to Animals Asia for rescuing her all those years ago, and her new life here was filled with happiness and tasty treats. Caesar, you will be missed by so many” - Vet Nurse Ffion Johnson

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