Hero vets save rescued bear suffering from life-threatening spinal injury

26 February 2018

Mandela on a tyre

When moon bear Mandela’s spinal cord collapsed, his carers thought he wouldn’t survive, but dedicated vets have been able to get him back on his feet.

Moon bear Mandela is a true survivor. He suffered unimaginable cruelty on a bear bile farm in China where a metal tube was inserted into his abdomen allowing the bile to constantly drip out for use in traditional medicine.

It is unknown how long Mandela was “tapped” for his bile in this way, but he certainly spent many years almost completely immobile in a tiny cage – he was merely permitted to eat and breathe.

Mandela as we found him, China 2005

Thankfully he was rescued in 2005 and since then has peacefully lived out his days at Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre, where he was adopted by famed primatologist Dr Dame Jane Goodall DBE.

Jane Goodall met Mandela, China 2005

But in January, Mandela’s carers feared his time had come. The 200kg bear stopped eating, refused medications and was clearly struggling to stand.

An emergency health check revealed a disc in his spinal cord had collapsed and was causing the nerves within to be compressed.

Animals Asia Senior Veterinarian Emily Drayton said:

“The pain was clearly unbearable and as a result, Mandela’s gastrointestinal system had gone into shock and stopped functioning. He was unable to pass any solids and at this point I feared he wouldn’t survive.

“The readings on the spinal radiograms looked very grim, but there was a glimmer of hope in that Mandela still had some function in his hind legs. That’s what convinced us he still had a small chance to recover.”

For the next two weeks Mandela was hospitalised and kept on strict cage rest. He was nursed round the clock and had to be spoon-fed, while a medication regime was drawn up.

Amazingly, rest and anti-inflammatory medication allowed Mandela’s spinal cord to recover and nerve function to return which in turn enabled him to regain function in his gastrointestinal system.

Once vets were sure of Mandela’s ability to stand, walk and sit up without pain, he returned to a den with specially modified furniture for infirm bears.

Mandela on bed rest in his den Feb 2018 1

Emily said:

“Mandela’s recovery is incredible considering the degree of disease we found. We truly thought we’d lost him but now he is happy, bright and his ravenous appetite has returned. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Although Mandela’s condition has improved enormously he still has difficulty walking and vets believe it may take many more months before full normal function returns – if it ever does.

From now on, Mandela will always be at risk of this injury reoccurring but with appropriate management vets believe he can live a relatively normal bear life.

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“Sadly, saying goodbye is an unavoidable part of our work when rescuing bears from cruelty and over the years we’ve lost many bears who we love deeply. Mandela gave us a real scare but thanks to our extraordinary team, we can see him comfortable and improving. Hopefully soon, just as the days get warmer, Mandela will be able go outside and enjoy the best a Chinese spring can offer.”

Animals Asia has rescued more than 600 bears – mostly from the bile industry – in China and Vietnam. Today, 380 bears continue to live out their lives at Animals Asia’s sanctuaries.

Stardust & MandelaMandela playing with Possum and Dick