Sun shines on recently rescued moon bear for first time after 13 years of cruelty

27 February 2019

Moon bear Kim had no fear of the outdoor world she hadn’t experienced for a lifetime, but past trauma means she is not yet ready to make friends with other bears.

When Animals Asia rescued five bears from a Vietnamese bear bile farm in August 2018, a collective 65 years of extreme cruelty was ended.

After being freed, the bears received the health care they so desperately needed to relieve pain, were transitioned to a species-specific diet and were given opportunities to regain their strength through enrichment programmes in sanctuary dens.

This month, moon bear Kim took the enormous step of walking out into the sunshine in an outdoor enclosure for the first time since she was a defenceless cub over a decade ago.

Animals Asia Bear Manager Sarah van Herpt said:

“Kim has been a total superstar and wasn’t phased at all by her first meeting with grass and the outdoors.

“She was very confident, exploring the outside world and particularly enjoying the climbing structure set up for her. She sat on the wooden platform we made for her and played with the enrichment quite happily in the sun.”

Kim currently has access to a small enclosure designed for cubs. This area will allow Kim to build strength and confidence while her carers work to integrate her with a suitable community of bears in one of the sanctuary’s large outdoor enclosures.

Sarah said:

“Kim hasn’t yet shown any willingness to get to know the other bears, but that could well be as a result of past trauma. It’s likely she lost half her tongue in an altercation with another bear on the farm so quite understandable that she is wary. But she has exceeded all expectations with the speed she’s taken to the outside world so I am hopeful we’ll be able to find a community of bears for her to share a much larger enclosure with in the future.”

Following rescue from long periods of extreme captivity, many bears struggle to readjust to large, outdoor spaces. In an extreme case, sun bear Annemarie took more than a year to work up the courage to set foot on grass after the door to the outdoor enclosure had been opened.

Kim was rescued alongside Mai, Mekong, LeBON and Newtie (formerly known as Star), all of whom had been trapped in the wild and held in tiny, barren cages for over a decade so that their bile could be cruelly extracted for use in traditional medicine.

During the long years of captivity, half of Kim’s tongue was torn off – possibly from a fight with another bear. She was observed repeatedly weaving back and forth in her cage – a clear sign of stress – and had been biting the metal bars in a vain attempt to escape.

Rescuers had to anaesthetise Kim and cut open the cage door to free her before she and the other bears began a 5-day, 1,200 kilometre road trip back to sanctuary.

Once back at sanctuary, Kim required dental surgery to remove fractured and rotten teeth which had likely been causing extreme pain for many years.

The other bears rescued as part of the #FiveLives rescue have been integrated into smaller groups and work is ongoing to introduce them to outdoor enclosures.

Animals Asia is a pioneer in combating the bear bile farming industry. In 1998, it was the first to expose the harsh realities of this once-hidden trade and has since rescued more than 600 bears from the industry in both Vietnam and China. 

The organization’s Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, is considered the world’s leading authority on bear bile farming, having dedicated her life to exposing and eradicating the brutal industry for more than 20 years. Today, nearly 200 bears live in peace and tranquility at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, while 190 more are looked after by the organisation in China.

In 2017, the Vietnamese government signed a landmark partnership agreement with Animals Asia to shut down every bear bile farm and send all captive bears to sanctuaries by 2022.