The most broken bear we’ve seen in years: Dawn’s story

07 April 2023

Our rescue team thought they’d seen it all.

Collectively our sanctuary teams have rescued hundreds of bears from bile farms, and cared for hundreds more. They’ve had decades of experience with broken bears.

But when Dawn arrived at our Vietnam sanctuary after we rescued her and four other moon bears from a bear bile farm in Vietnam, they were shocked and saddened by her behaviour.

“In the first few days of arriving at our sanctuary, while they are in quarantine, we want to make the bears feel as comfortable and safe as possible,” Heidi Quine, Director of Bear and Vet Department at our Vietnam sanctuary explained.

“They usually start to respond to the treats, toys and enrichment we give them, or our voices, or the soothing music we play for them.”

She continued, “But Dawn wasn’t responding. She was curled in a tight ball, facing away from us, or swaying her head repeatedly.”

Heidi explains how Dawn came to be so shut down, and how our team is doing all they can to help her heal…

Twenty years on a bile farm

“Dawn right now is emotionally shut down. She spent 20 years on a farm and over that time no matter what she did, whether she resisted what was happening to her or accepted it, bad things would happen anyway.

To you, the reader, I ask you to stop and think about where you were 20 years ago, and about everything that’s happened since then. And then think about how, while you were making all those memories, at that exact same time our beloved Dawn was trapped in the bear bile industry. 

I imagine first she raged against it and then broken, she gave up.

Learning to trust

Dawn is showing all the signs of what we as humans would call stress and anxiety. And these, as we know, can have a huge impact on a person’s and indeed a bear’s, ability to function, learn, and progress. 

And we want Dawn to learn: that she is safe, that she is loved, that life can and will be different from what she’s experienced up to now. 

A blended approach to bear recovery

Our bear and vet teams have done a full behavioural review for Dawn, which outlines how we will help her move past these initial barriers.

At our sanctuaries here in Vietnam and China we have an expert blended approach to the rehabilitation of the bears which marries behavioural expertise and veterinary medicine. 

Part of our plan for Dawn is to start her on a medicine called fluoxetine, which is an antidepressant. Our vets think that the bears’ brains actually change through years of chronic stress, and so giving Dawn this medication will hopefully allow her mind to start healing, which will allow us into her heart, and start earning her trust.

We will never give up on Dawn

I don't know a single bear yet whose trust we’ve not won. And I know we will be able to do the same with Dawn.

I’ve made a promise to Dawn that we will piece her back together, and one day we will share the story of how she took her first steps outside, felt the grass beneath her paws, felt the warmth of the sun on her fur, made her first bear friends, and how she finally knows what it means to be a bear.”

There are more like Dawn out there

Animals Asia is dedicated to rescuing the last bears who are still living on bile farms across Vietnam - the majority live where in the region Dawn was rescued from.

Join our Bear Rescue Team today and together we will reach every last one of them and bring them home to our new sanctuary.

Read more: Five bears rescued from bile farming hotspot