In the first of a four-part series we look back to the New Year Rescue that took place early in January 2013 and track the progress of the six bears who joined us at our China sanctuary. In the year that followed their lives changed from painful daily extractions in tiny cages to rehabilitation and the start of new lives and friendships.
One year on from the New Year Rescue and with the six bears all enjoying sanctuary life – the experience and their careful handling has meant bonds have endured within the group.
Two such bears are Katie and Mac (known as Toby on arrival) who arrived in tiny bile cages from the same illegal farm.
They were transferred to larger recovery cages, close to each other, during their rehabilitation after both had damaged gall bladders removed and while vets worked on their smashed and rotten teeth.
The two bears were eventually properly introduced in dens and their laid back personalities clicked perfectly, despite Mac occasionally stealing Katie’s food.
Of the two it was Mac that took the first steps outside – peeping her nose out the door as Katie slept. Peering up at a sky she’d likely never seen before, grabbing a piece of fruit and bolting back into the den.
While the bond between Katie and Mac had been forged during their rehabilitation – it remained to be seen how both would fair meeting the other rescued bears in House 9, a dynamic that was already very much its own community.
Bear Manager Heidi Quine describes watching the pair come to terms with this latest change:
“They immediately enjoyed their new space but were slow to make new friends. They are both such laid back souls that they took integration entirely in their stride. For the most part the pair felt the new experience wasn’t quite worth interrupting a snooze for as if they were saying ‘Oh look, another bear. Must surely be time for another nap!’”
If the two are yet to become the life and soul of the bear house then that’s entirely normal. They are still bears learning to be bears. To this end bear keepers even reported that the pair had to learn to eat browse – the delicious green leaves and branches that the bears are given daily.
“Neither Katie nor Mac knew what to do with browse when it was offered to them. At first, they would either ignore it or give it a quick sniff. Only since watching the other bears eat it has Mac realised how delicious it is. Katie was a lot slower to catch on.”
Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field added:
“Within the first week of arriving poor Mac had a gall bladder removed that was the size of a water melon. If people could have seen the diseased painful state then you would wonder why bear bile could ever be linked with promoting health. But the laid back nature of both these bears doesn’t obscure what fighters they both are.
“Years and years in tiny bear bile farm cages and now here they are, enjoying each other’s company and slowly adapting to their new lives. If the removal of pain was their first step in their rehabilitation – learning to be part of this community of bears is the last one. But, in the meantime, the bond built between the two will serve them well.”
Huge thanks to photographer Peter Yuen for these wonderful photos. You can see his website here and his Facebook page here. Pictures from Animals Asia can be ordered here with profits going towards our campaign to End Bear Bile Farming.