Just months after vets saved his life, bile farm survivor finally succumbs to lifetime of injuries

19 June 2018

As moon bear Mandela passes away peacefully following a long battle with illness, concern turns to his brother Stardust, alone for the first time.

More than a decade after being rescued from a horrific bear bile farm in 2005, moon bear Mandela has passed away peacefully at Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre.

In February this year, vets miraculously saved Mandela from a compressed spinal cord, but nothing could be done to prevent the rupturing of a major artery, which ended his life.

Mandela on bed rest in his den Feb 2018 1

Animals Asia Veterinarian Rachel Sanki said:

“Losing Mandela has been a huge shock. I felt sure that after his recovery earlier in the year he would go from strength to strength, but it wasn’t to be. Mandela’s body suffered so much cruelty on the farm that it would inevitably catch up with him at some point.

“The comfort we can take from the post-mortem is that Mandela would have passed very quickly and would not have suffered.”

Mandela suffered years of 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

Animals Asia’s China Bear and Vet Team Director, Nic Field said:

“Mandela was a larger than life character, gregarious and always with a big appetite – not just for food but for life.

“His beautiful relationship with best friend and presumed brother Stardust was deeply moving. Both bears suffered unimaginable cruelty side-by-side on the farm all those years, and after rescue they remained inseparable.

“Theirs was a bond as close as any animal – including us humans – can ever hope to experience. We will all feel his loss, but nobody will feel it as acutely as Stardust. We will monitor him closely now to make sure he’s coping well and fingers crossed he will form new relationships that will enrich his life as much as his bond with Mandela did.”

Mandela and Stardust were two of the biggest male bears at Animals Asia’s sanctuary and the sight of them both foraging together was unmistakable for sanctuary visitors.

Despite being such large, powerful animals, Mandela and Stardust were known to have gentle souls.

After eating Mandela and Stardust would often squeeze into a single basket and take turns nibbling on each other’s ears.

Stardust & Mandela

Animals Asia Team Leader Li Ping, who cared for both bears for many years, said:

“Whenever Mandela was sunbathing alone in the pool, his old buddy Stardust would come see him. Stardust would come into the pool, wiping water off Mandela's eyes before rubbing and washing the fur on Mandela's back. 

“I remember seeing Mandela unexpectedly find a pear one afternoon and seeing as he was such a big foodie, I was surprised he didn't eat it right away. So I went over to check what was going on and realised he was digging a hole and trying to hide the pear. But just when he was in the middle of digging, Stardust came over, grabbed the pear and ate it right away. Amazingly, Mandela didn’t get upset, instead the two started to wrestle happily.” 

Mandela was named by primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, who was present during his rescue from a bear bile farm in China. She chose to name him after former South African President Nelson Mandela in reference to the bears’ ability to forgive after years of confinement and suffering in a prison-like bile farm.

Jane Goodall met Mandela, China 2005

Dr Goodall said:

“We mourn that Mandela lived so much of his life in the confines of a small cage, but we can take heart in the fact that he had a decade of glorious care at Animals Asia’s sanctuary, with the grass beneath his feet, and the sun on his back, before he succumbed to the ailments that resulted from the long-term cruelty. May Mandela, who I named in recognition of the bears’ incredible capacity to forgive, be forever remembered and inspire us all to put an end to the cruel bear bile industry.”

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“The whole sanctuary is devastated at the loss of our old friend Mandela. We can only console ourselves with some perspective. To pass away after 13 happy years in sanctuary is not a tragedy. A tragedy is dying alone and scared after a lifetime of pain on a bear bile farm. That wasn’t Mandela’s fate and we can be proud that with the help of caring people around the world, we were able to give him that – even though losing him hurts so profoundly.

“The skeleton thin and deeply unhappy bear we rescued that day 13 years is unrecognisable from the handsome, kind and charismatic bear Mandela became. Mandela, you are missed so very much by your family who love you.”

Mandela on a tyre