New Year Rescue: One Month On

07 February 2013

All six New Year Rescue bears now recovering from successful gall bladder operations

One month on from the New Year Rescue that saw six bears arrive at Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Chengdu from an illegal bear bile farm in Sichuan Province, each has undergone successful surgery to remove their damaged gall bladders.

The bears are now completing their 45 days quarantine ahead of their managed moves to larger space.

The operations are necessary for all new bears arriving from bile farms in China due to the irreparable damage caused by the surgical mutilations to create the fistulas, and by regular extractions of their bile. For most bears, this is the single largest physical obstacle they face in the transition from farm cages to open enclosures.

The last bear on the operating table was Katie. A younger bear, in better shape that most, she was still suffering from a gall stone that would have caused excruciating pain.

Her operation followed Peter’s that left vets trying to piece together clues as to his long-term story. It appeared his gall bladder had already been removed - perhaps with farmers keen to sell it and without it his value would have lessened. While it may have been feasible for the farmer to continue extracting bile from the remains of the bile duct, for a while at least, his rescuers arrived just in time. 

Earlier, Peter had arrived in one of the smallest cages staff had ever seen. Just 3 feet long, by 1 foot 8 inches wide, and just under 2 feet high. It’s likely that he had spent most of his life, caged and hardly able to move. 

Writing in her blog Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson described the moment when, having been transferred to a larger recovery cage under anaesthetic, Peter manages to stretch his legs and stand for possibly the first time in years: 

“The first hour or so after coming round, saw Peter’s back legs and consequently the recovery cage, shaking from his effort to stand on all fours, and it was clear that he really didn't know what to do with his legs. His nerves too were in shreds, and he jumped in fright at the slightest movement, huffing at everyone in fear and anxiety, until he was satisfied that nothing was going to cause him harm. 

“Still this brave bear persevered – and today he has it all worked out. This bright and curious hero is standing tall, calmly contemplating not only his new surroundings, but us. A bear with the most handsome face in the world, Peter loves his food, he loves his browse and straw, and most of all he loves his bamboo toys.”

The bamboo toys smeared with differing foods and scents on a rotating basis are part of Animals Asia’s “enrichment” programme, designed to provide a range of stimulation. Even the sanctuary’s CD player is utilised playing the bears tunes from The Beatles to Beethoven or even a little jungle noise. The bears are also partial to Chinese pop music on local radio stations, but soon start to grumble at talk radio. 

Later with the sun on their backs and grass under their feet in outdoor enclosures, the bears will be able to forage for hidden food and receive timetabled treats. This allows the bears to be bears, and demonstrate their natural behaviours. 

Jill Robinson added: “These bears have spent years in cages, and we have to be very patient in managing the time from their arrival to their introduction to open spaces and integration with other bears. The anticipation is huge. Day by day, life is getting better for these bears who lived with pain and confinement for so long. The best bit is yet to come.”