In the third part 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 existence changed from painful daily extractions in tiny cages to rehabilitation and the start of new lives and friendships.
One year on from her rescue and Manuka has truly shaken off the horrors of the bear bile farm.
She arrived crammed into a tiny cage with her paws in terrible condition, with claws so overgrown they were puncturing her pads. She had not walked for years and with cracked, painful teeth she was a depressed bear with no appetite.
Manuka’s road to recovery has been an emotive one and, along the way, she has appeared to savour each moment of rehabilitation, whether it’s a bracing winter dip or the heart-stopping moments that saw her step out into the open air for the first time in years. Her first moon bear steps (below) had Animals Asia supporters from San Francisco to Shanghai dabbing their eyes.
Originally known as Buddha bear, which suited this charismatic soul, she was then re-named by comedian Arj Barker who was allowed to choose a permanent name after his barnstorming fundraiser in Australia. He opted for the equally sweet Manuka - thankfully rejecting the idea to name her after his comic creation, “Poopy”.
Once integrated, Manuka wasn’t too keen on making friends at first. Years on a bear bile farm had left her suspicious and unable to trust, preferring her own company. She continued to wander alone around the enclosure, hiding within that strikingly shaggy fur.
However, she loved swimming and the pool is where she made one of her biggest social breakthroughs. Back in October 2013, for the first time, Manuka swam with three other bears rather than alone - a heart-warming sign that had sanctuary staff believing she was finally on the road to recovery.
But it wasn’t until Manuka met Precious that her social life took a more unexpected turn.
After a few growls, the usually assertive Precious suddenly became extremely interested, if not obsessed, with the new arrival. Precious started following Manuka everywhere, as if protecting her from other bears. Even when Manuka took a nap in a basket, Precious would often lie underneath, keeping watch.
For a long time, Manuka stayed suspicious, but persistence finally paid off for Precious and, after months of following Manuka around, her friendship has finally been returned, with these best pals now sharing a basket at night.
An incredibly happy ending for a beautiful bear who has been through so much but is now enjoying each new experience.
And the bile farm? It’s been washed right out of that famously shaggy fur.
Huge thanks to photographer Peter Yuen for his 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.