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The most experienced bear vet nurse in the world

22 January 2016

Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater doing health check for a bear

“Every day, I feel my passion renewed by seeing these bears – and knowing that everything we do here is for them, and others on bile farms yet to be rescued.”

Animals Asia Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater is approaching an important milestone – 10 years with Animals Asia, and a rightful claim as “the most experienced bear vet nurse in the world”.

Wendy was recently nominated for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Golden Jubilee Award – which recognises the most talented and influential vet nurses working in animal welfare – but her influence at Animals Asia’s China sanctuary has been there all along.

Through her time with Animals Asia, Wendy has been active in spreading good veterinary practice throughout China. She has worked to help in training and capacity-building with local Chinese vets and pet owners. She’s also continually building on her knowledge – having just completed her MSc in International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law from the University of Edinburgh.

Though she’s been involved in the rescue of over 80 bears, her commitment to animal welfare goes well beyond that. She’s treated macaques and red pandas, and has organised and coordinated rescues of dogs from trucks that were on their way to markets. She’s also developed care protocols for the overwhelmed local shelters who’ve taken on hundreds of these rescues – even facilitating their international adoption.

China Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field said:

“Everything we have achieved here Wendy has contributed to – she has been an enormous asset to Animals Asia for nearly 10 years.

“She has such a practical and organised approach to her work and carries with her so much knowledge and experience. This has been invaluable for consistency, staff training and development, and of course the care of the bears and other animals. I think you could easily say that she is the most experienced bear vet nurse in the world.”

Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater with other colleages

Wendy shares her thoughts on her lifetime of animal service below:

You’ve worked at Animals Asia for over nine years – making you the longest-tenured vet nurse on staff. How has it been? How have you seen the organisation grow?

From the day I first started at the China Bear Rescue Centre as a volunteer in 2006 I knew it was a place I wanted to stay longer. I never expected nine years would pass, but this really has become my home – I have just signed up for year 10.

The job never fails to keep me interested. From day one it was clear to me how well set up and run the rescue centre is. There are protocols for everything, and it was clear the bears here are given the best of both veterinary care and behavioural management practices.

One of the things I like most abut working here is how open and willing our whole team is to change. Each specialist visit brings new information, which has helped us develop the very best standard of care for the bears. As a vet nurse this is really exciting, as you never stop learning and are constantly challenged in the ever-advancing field of veterinary care.

Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater takes care of dogs with another colleague

Can you tell us a memorable story from your rescue of over 80 (!) bears?

I guess the most memorable one would be the rescue of Oliver and the other nine Shan Dong bears. It was the first rescue I have been out to the farm to do.

When Oliver fell ill on the journey home, we decided we needed to stop and do emergency surgery. The whole team leapt into action. We contacted local hospitals and got help from the police – we were allowed to jump a huge traffic jam and drive along a brand new, not-yet-finished road to get to the closest hospital with a police escort. While others stayed with Oliver, I gathered the tools for the surgery – running through traffic to grab suitcases, supplies and the anaesthetic machine that helped make his life-saving surgery possible.

The whole rescue was such a wonderful team effort. The drivers took turns driving so we did not need to stop, our bear staff assisted the vets and nurses with the initial health checks – and the vets and nurses performed Oliver’s surgery on their knees in the back of a cold truck with just torch light. It’s something I will never forget, and I am so proud to have been a part of it – and so lucky to have seen Oliver live a happy life here at the centre.

Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater at Hong Kong Vietnam conference in 2013

You’ve taken on a key role in developing the design and a long-term plan for establishing a Small Animal Hospital at Animals Asia’s China sanctuary. How will this hospital figure into Animals Asia’s cat and dog welfare work?

Our intention is to serve small animals in the community we are based in. It’s Animals Asia’s mission to improve the welfare of animals through Asia – and as we already have the skills and dedicated resources on-site to help our smaller furry friends in need, it would be a shame not to.

What keeps you passionate about the work after so long?

Every day, I feel my passion renewed by seeing these bears – and knowing that everything we do here is for them, and others on bile farms yet to be rescued. 

Also, it gives me a great boost to see how hard everyone works to help moon bears and other animals in Asia. The support we get at the sanctuaries is enough to keep you going even on the bad days.

Senior Vet Nurse Wendy Leadbeater and Photographer Peter Yuen put bear medicine in marshmallows