Kindness in Action: Animals Asia supporters made all these rescues happen in 2021

02 December 2021

What a phenomenal year it’s been! In less than 12 months, with the incredible help of our supporters, Animals Asia rescued 11 beautiful bears from the bear bile, wildlife trafficking and entertainment industries and elephants from a life of labour, and moved 101 ex-bile bears 750 miles across China to their forever home in the biggest operation of its kind.

Let’s take a quick look back on what has been one of our most momentous years to date, not only in terms of how many bears we welcomed to our sanctuaries, but in moving another step closer to our mission: to end bear bile farming in Vietnam forever.

April: Lâm is second bear to make it out of bile farm hotspot

In the late hours of 11 April, we received an urgent call from the Forest Protection Department (FPD), our government partners in ending bear bile farming in Vietnam. They had seized a bear from a notorious bear bile farming hotspot - only the second bear to make it out of this area alive - and needed to find him a home.

Our sanctuary team dropped everything to welcome this beautiful bear, who we named Lam, meaning ‘forest’. 

Despite his estimated eight years on a bile farm, Lâm has developed into a playful, confident member of his bear house and loves to play with fellow rescued bears Chilli-Bienchien and Tiêu. 

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May: The really big one! 101 bears moved to sanctuary

In the biggest, most challenging and momentous operation of its kind anywhere in the world, Animals Asia successfully transferred 101 ex-bile farm bears from Nanning 750 miles across China to our sanctuary in Chengdu.

Over three days, Animals Asia’s incredible China team moved every single bear according to their needs, personalities and abilities with so much consideration, love and care. They’d been preparing for this day for months, encouraging the bears to walk into their transport cages on their own and assessing each bears’ progress and reactions at each stage. 

Once they arrived at our sanctuary, they slowly started to adapt to their new surroundings, feeling the grass under their paws for the first time in their lives.

Tragically, we lost one of the bears shortly after they arrived at Chengdu. The beautiful Coconut held on long enough to feel the grass under her paws and sun on her fur, but a tumour that had been threatening to take her from us finally ruptured and she passed away surrounded by those who had come to love and adore her.

Today, six months after all the excitement and celebration of our biggest ever bear move, the ‘Nanning’ bears are adapting to their new environment, making new friends and relishing every new day as an adventure. The team at our Chengdu bear sanctuary certainly have their hands full!

June: The Spice Girls - from circus to sanctuary

Back in Vietnam, Hanoi Central Circus voluntarily gave up their four remaining performing bears to Animals Asia’s care. Two years ago we successfully campaigned for the release of two of their bears, Sugar and Spice, who have lived at our sanctuary since. 

Animals Asia has campaigned for many years for an end to the use of wild animals in circus performances. In 2017 we published a report on how performing affects animals physically and psychologically, following which the government department responsible for entertainment instructed circuses to stop using wild animals in their shows. 

We named the four young bears Chilli-Bienchien, Saffron, Tiêu (meaning ‘Pepper’ in Vietnamese) and Gừng (meaning ‘Ginger’) and after a tentative start, the four young bears started to adapt to their new environment.

However, after a few months we were devastated to lose Gừng to an underlying genetic condition which affected many of her organs. After such a short life it was tragic that we lost her just as she was starting out on her new journey with us, but we take comfort in knowing that she passed away surrounded by those who loved her.

Chilli-Bienchien, Saffron and Tiêu continue to gain in confidence and health. We are delighted that the circus has ended bear performances and hope that this sets a precedent for more circuses to stop using wild animals. 

Three more bears move from darkness into the light

No sooner had we settled the Spice Girls into their new lives, we heard of the desperate plight of three bile bears in the region of Lang Son.

The three bears were the last bile bears in Lang Son and had lived in small cages in a dark, damp room for over 16 years, suffering continual bile extraction. 

Our rescue team was desperate to get these traumatised bears to our sanctuary and help them begin to heal. We named them Hy vọng (meaning Hope), Tương lai (meaning Future), and Vui (meaning Joy) to signify how not only their lives would change, but also how their rescue spells the end for bear bile farming in another region of Vietnam.

The three bears are settling in well to their new lives. Their unique personalities have emerged, they’ve made friends and have learned to trust people again.

September: Elephant Kham Phanh rescued from a life of hard labour

46-year old female elephant Kham Phanh was born into captivity and spent her life working in the agriculture industry carrying heavy logs around. She had never been part of a herd or free to express her natural behaviours. 

Animals Asia had persuaded her owners to release her into our care and live the rest of her life at the Yok Don National Park, a former elephant-riding location and now an ethical elephant project where six rescued elephants are free to roam the vast forest.

Today, Kham Phanh spends her days foraging, swimming, resting and playing as she chooses. We were overjoyed to watch her strike up a friendship with H’Plo, who we rescued earlier in the year, and can’t quite believe how quickly and well she has adapted to sanctuary life. It’s almost like she’s making up for lost time and wants to experience everything her new playground has to offer.

Wonder’s rescue: closing in on illegal wildlife trafficking

Late one night, Animals Asia received a phone call that would change one bear cub’s life forever. The call was from the police department in Dien Bien, North-East Vietnam, who had seized a moon bear cub during a raid on an illegal wildlife trafficking operation. 

The team immediately started making plans to travel the 500km to go and get the cub, and soon enough this brave little one was safe at our sanctuary and being lavished with attention, healthy treats and natural enrichment.

After her essential quarantine period was over, Wonder moved into her own den and eventually into her outside enclosure. Today, you’d never know this fast-growing bear had had such a traumatic start in life. She is full of energy, curiosity and playfulness and we are so grateful to everyone who helped us reach her and save her from what would have surely been a painful future.

November: Yên, another cub rescued from illegal wildlife trafficking

Only two months after Wonder’s rescue we were contacted by another police department who had seized a bear cub after being illegally trafficked.

The police department was in the Quang Ninh province, which had been rendered bear bile farm-free after we rescued the last bears in 2015. The swift action by the authorities proved once again that Vietnam is taking combating the illegal wildlife trade seriously and the local police did what needed to be done to keep the province bile farm free.

The terrified cub, who we named Yên which means ‘peace’ in Vietnamese, had, like Wonder, likely been snatched in the wild by poachers, snatched from his mother and from the opportunity of a normal life in the wild.

When we got Yên back to our sanctuary, he was so scared that our staff had to take it in turns to sit with him as he would cry if he was left alone. Eventually, we placed a large teddy bear by his cage in an attempt to pacify him while the staff caught some sleep.

Slowly, Yên began to trust us and started to realise he was in a safe place. He is still adapting to the new surroundings, smells and sounds of his new home, but with the incredible love, support and patience of our sanctuary team, made possible by support from around the world, we are sure that Yên will grow into a confident, happy and healthy bear in no time. 

December: Another cub rescue in time for Christmas

We have just heard from the Dien Bien Forest Protection Department who have told us they’ve intercepted another wildlife trafficking operation and have seized a cub. At the time of going to press, our team are on their way to go and get this poor cub, about whom we know very little.

What we do know is that we will stop at nothing to rescue every last bear on bile farms in Vietnam and to stop the illegal trafficking of bears into the very industry we are determined to close. 

These last three cub rescues in particular demonstrate not only Vietnam’s commitment to closing the bear bile industry, but also the importance of establishing respectful relationships with local people and authorities in bringing an end to the suffering of so many bears.

Closing the curtains on an incredible year

It has been a busy, challenging and exciting year for animals in Asia and for the progression of attitudes and behaviours towards animals, wildlife and conservation.

But, we cannot rest on our laurels. Next year, with our supporters across the world by our side, we will build a new sanctuary to ensure no bear is left behind in Vietnam and change the world for so many more animals in Asia.

With your help we will continue to put kindness in action. 

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