#InternationalWomensDay: Three inspirational women fighting back against the cruelty of bear bile farming

08 March 2018

These incredible women have used determination, leadership, expertise, experience and love to change the world for hundreds of bears suffering extreme cruelty.

Women have a long tradition of leadership in the animal welfare movement. We wouldn't be where we are today without the presence of women at the helm of many animal organisations, and speaking out as activists.

At Animals Asia many of the most senior positions are held by women absolutely committed to ending bear bile farming and giving the best lives possible to every single rescued bear.

Animals Asia’s founder and CEO as well as the directors of our sanctuaries in Vietnam and China are all women who together have saved over 600 bears from unimaginable cruelty.

This is their story.

Founder and CEO Jill Robinson MBE

Jill Robinson (c) Eric Baccega/AAF copyright

Through her work to end the bear bile industry, Jill Robinson has become known globally as a leader of the animal welfare movement and has even been honoured by the British Queen.

But her greatest pride remains the more than 600 bears she has rescued through Animals Asia – the charity she founded in 1998.

Before Animals Asia began, few people in the world were aware of the barbaric cruelty at the heart of Asia’s bear bile trade. Farmers and traditional medicine practitioners insisted the industry was humane and that extracting bile was “like turning on a tap: natural, easy and without pain”.

Yet Jill’s work proved this argument to be completely false. Every rescued bear became a living testament to the horrendous physical and psychological damage wrought on farms, while images and video of survivors foraging in the charity’s idyllic sanctuary proved a rallying point for welfare advocates.

Jill said:

“Animals have emotions every bit as profound as ours. Their one life is as important to them as our one life is to us, and our duty of care to them all is to recognise this, help them, and work to the day when we can look into their eyes without shame.”  

Thirty two years since arriving in Asia and working in animal welfare, Jill – who is originally from England – remains unequivocal in pursuit of her goals and determined never to give up on a single animal in need, until the cruelty ends.

Bear and Vet Team Director, China, Nic Field

China Bear and Vet Team Director, Nic Field

For more than a decade, Nic has overseen the care of more than 300 bears at Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre where she manages a team of 75 people.

In that time she has helped enrich the lives of bears from the moment they are freed, to the moment they make their first friends, their first steps on grass and even their final breaths.

Speaking in 2017 Nic said:

“This job really does encapsulate the full range of emotions. I have seen bears rescued and rehabilitated into our bear communities. I have seen them develop the most loving friendships […] to me there is no better job satisfaction than to see a long-suffering bear finally enjoy their life in the sunshine and be given the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours.

“But there are only so many sunny days for each bear. As my time has gone on here I have had to say goodbye to bears who I have truly loved, but I do so knowing that the whole team has done everything they possibly can to give them the quality of life they deserve for as long as possible. No bear in our sanctuary ever dies in vain and each and everyone leaves a legacy to better our understanding of bears and the bile industry.”

Nic’s pioneering work at the sanctuary has played a huge part in making bear bile farming an international issue of concern, while her tireless compassion has given hundreds of rescued bears the respect and dignity they deserve.

Bear and Vet Team Director, Vietnam, Heidi Quine

Animals Asia Bear and Vet Team Supervisor Vietnam Heidi Quine 1

Heidi first visited Vietnam in 2000 as a volunteer and the experience changed her life. When she saw a chained elephant swaying and begging for food, she made a personal commitment to improve animal welfare in Asia.

Fast forward 16 years and Heidi’s tireless compassion saw her become the head of Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, where she oversees the care of nearly 200 bears rescued from traffickers and the bile industry.

Many of the moon and sun bears Heidi’s team care for arrive as tiny cubs, having been rescued from poachers and traffickers by the authorities. With no hope of return to the wild, Heidi and her team must provide these youngsters with everything they need to grow into happy, healthy adults while also ensuring their young minds are physically and mentally stimulated at all times.

Heidi said: 

“The young population of bears at the sanctuary really keeps the whole team on their toes. They have boundless energy and very specific needs. Some of the bears we’ve given sanctuary to have been so small that they have learned to walk in our cub house and have had to be hand-reared to give them the emotional security which cubs require.

“Very few facilities in the world deal with this situation so we’re really at the forefront of the field. My guiding principle is that everything be done with the bears’ long-term welfare in mind. We’ll literally do anything for the bears to give them the best shot at happy lives. They deserve nothing less.”

While Jill, Nic and Heidi are exceptional in their long-term commitment to animals, we all have a role to play. From volunteering to fundraising to awareness raising, there is still much to be done by the present and next generation of animal welfare advocates.