Rescued from the bile trade – six cubs growing up safely with Animals Asia

02 October 2015

It’s impossible not to love bear cubs – these beautiful creatures have been doted on by rescuers, carers and Animals Asia supporters from around the world.

In truth, however, they’ve lost the one admirer they needed most – their mother – and in her absence it has fallen to Animals Asia’s bear and vet teams to bring up these incredibly mischievous bears.

Sadly they will never know what it would have been like to grow up in the wild with a parent’s guiding hand. However, without our intervention it’s inevitable that each would have ended up within the bile trade.

To watch them grow up is a privilege, and it’s our on-going pleasure to share their progress. 

1. Holly and Wang Cai (née Rudolph)

This pair of young cubs arrived at Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre right before Christmas, 2012. In the holiday spirit, the staff at the China sanctuary named them Holly and Rudolph – and they’ve been the gift that keeps giving ever since.

Their path to the China sanctuary is a unique one. They were originally found abandoned as very young cubs by villagers in China’s Sichuan province. Holly and Wang Cai were kept in the village as unique animal companions until they started to grow too large for the villagers to take care of. It was at this point that they decided to seek help – rejecting the advances of bile farmers in favour of working with the local forestry service.

And so, just in time for Christmas, they arrived at their new home. They soon found their new passion – climbing trees in their enclosure. They ran circles around the older bears they’d been integrated with, with that boundless energy that comes with youth. And that energy has proven to be contagious.

In a festive message in 2012, Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson said:

“Providing a home for these two bears is the perfect Christmas present for Animals Asia, our supporters around the world, and for the bears themselves. At a time of year that should be marked by selflessness, we saw how selfless people can be – with these villagers refusing money from bile farmers in order to make sure these bears can have the lives they deserve.”

2. Birgit (née Han Chau)

Birgit came to Animals Asia as a 15kg, rail-thin cub, after being rescued in northern Vietnam’s Lai Chau province.

When Birgit first came to the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, she was nervous and excitable, jumping against the side of her quarantine cage whenever a bear worker approached, refusing to eat if there were anyone in sight. And then she met the other bears.

From her progress report of 17 March 2011, two months after her rescue:

"Han Chau [Birgit’s original nickname] was integrated firstly with Ben [now known as Jenoe]. It was love at first sight! Frantic playing and wrestling non-stop, and it was wonderful to see little Han Chau being a real cub at last! She held her own and despite our concerns that she might be overwhelmed by Ben, she kept coming back for more playing. A little later Bill [now Bela] was added and then it just became more fun."

From a shy, antisocial beginning, Birgit has grown up to be one of the Vietnam sanctuary’s more prominent characters. And much of her progress is thanks to her new family – brother and sister bears who don’t hesitate to chase her around, who make sure she knows that she’ll always be part of the clan.

3. Goldie

When Goldie was rescued earlier this year, he was the only sun bear of his age at the Vietnam sanctuary. Found near the Laos border – only a few months old, weighing 6kg – he was kept in a cage on his own, with two dogs roaming around. He appeared terrified and acted aggressively towards people who came close by. Animals Asia’s staff believed that poachers had most likely killed his mother.

For the first week of his new life, he was too shy for the bear workers to approach him – but after this settling in period he began to adapt. From wasting most of his food he began to finish most of it. And he made some friends too – with older female sun bear cubs Layla and Sassy, who live in the enclosure next to him. His life, after taking tragic turn after turn, was finally off to a good start.

Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director Annemarie Weegenaar said:

“From the outset it was clear that Goldie was a very traumatised bear – as you might imagine given how he was taken from his mother so early. Physically he is getting stronger. His new surroundings and a settled existence will now continue his mental rehabilitation. As a young bear, Goldie may well have over 30 years of sanctuary life ahead of him. Our aim is to make them extremely happy.”

4. Sassy

When Sassy arrived at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in 2010 she was in rough shape, with a lame leg, an eye problem and a facial infection.

All of this early life trauma contributed to Sassy’s nervous temperament through her first few years. It meant that she didn’t adapt well to sharing her space with other bears, and though she wasn’t the best company, staff hoped that one day she’d find a friend for life.

Thankfully that happened in 2015, when she finally made her first friend. Sassy and Layla had been living next to each other for the eight months previous to their integration, but as sun bear Layla – rescued as a cub in 2014 – was a lot smaller than Sassy, the team decided to wait before integrating them. When they got together there were tears all round – the pair hit it off immediately. Sassy finally had her companion.

They have now been living together for seven months, and are on their way to being friends for life.

Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre Bear Manager Sarah Dempsey said:

“They had been living in neighbouring enclosures for a while, but it appeared to be a real surprise to Sassy when Layla actually entered her den. The girls soon started playing and both really seemed to enjoy each other’s company. The integration has really enriched Sassy’s life – she had been living on her own for many years and had shown a lot of abnormal behaviour.

“With Sassy now having a great friend in Layla, it has become very obvious that Sassy is less stressed. And she seems to have grown in confidence too. She thoroughly enjoyed the large enclosure she now shares with Layla and is spending more time outside than previously. It’s a great outcome for both Sassy and Layla!”

5. Murphy

When Murphy arrived at Animals Asia’s Vietnam sanctuary earlier this year, he weighed in at a miniscule 3.7kg. Clutching his blanket and still unsteady on his legs, he was estimated to be six-to-eight weeks old.

Animals Asia and the Son La province Forest Protection Department worked together to arrange emergency transportation across 430km of rocky and isolated terrain, to the Vietnam sanctuary. And now that he’s been there for over two months, he’s learned to walk, and is beginning to have the normal cubhood he deserves.

Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director Annemarie Weegenaar said at the time:

“We’re delighted to have Murphy with us so quickly, so that we can start to give him the care he needs. Sun bear cubs usually stay with their mothers until they are around two years old, so to be torn from his mother at just six or eight weeks is a real tragedy for Murphy.”

Thanks to Animals Asia, Murphy is beginning to overcome the tragedy that occurred so early in his life, and learning how to just be a bear.