The traditional medicine community saved her – now surgery is giving her a brighter future

29 May 2019

Aurora 1

Rescued after intervention from traditional medicine practitioners, sun bear Aurora has surgery to remove her ravaged gall bladder.

Sun bear Aurora is the smallest adult bear at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre.

She lives in a community of other sun bears in a large outdoor enclosure filled with climbing frames, swimming pools and new surprises which change every single day.

But this world is all new to her. Less than six months ago, she was languishing in a tiny metal cage on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. She ate only rice gruel and slops, drank only when her water tin was refilled and never once left the confines of the barren cage over an unimaginable 15 years of cruelty.

While Animals Asia initially believed Aurora was primarily caged as an exotic pet, scans have revealed she was used for bile extraction. Periodically she would have been knocked unconscious so that a needle could be plunged repeatedly through her stomach and into her gall bladder to extract her bile.

Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years, but today there are inexpensive and plentiful herbal and synthetic alternatives so that nobody will suffer from a lack of bear bile.

The Traditional Medicine Association of Vietnam agrees and has been working with Animals Asia to end the bear bile industry since 2010.

READ MORE: PICS: From schools to temples: winning hearts and minds to end bear bile farming in Vietnam

Animals Asia has worked with the association to plant gardens of herbal alternatives around the country, raising awareness with local communities about how they can stay healthy without harming a single bear.

There are now 10 gardens in the country, one of which is run by Huynh Luong traditional medicine practitioners in Tay Ninh province.

It was in Tay Ninh province that Aurora found herself trapped, and it was the traditional Asian medicine practitioners working with Animals Asia who contacted the authorities to organise a rescue.

Animals Asia Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said:

“If it wasn’t for the outreach we have conducted in tandem with the traditional medicine community over many years, I’m not sure Aurora would be with us today. Working with communities to raise awareness of the cruelty behind bear bile farming and the herbal alternatives available is slow but vital work and in Aurora’s case, it has changed her whole world.”

Aurora on outdoor platform 2

While humans no longer need bile to stay healthy, bears do and for those bears like Aurora who have suffered years of extraction, the lack of bile can lead to serious complications.

Vets at Animals Asia’s sanctuary found a gallstone had developed in Aurora’s gall bladder which could lead to severe pain, jaundice and pancreatitis.

Thankfully, modern surgery to remove her gall bladder was successfully carried out at the sanctuary this month leaving vets confident Aurora will make a full recovery.

Animals Asia Senior Veterinary Surgeon Shaun Thomson said:

“Aurora’s surgery went very smoothly and we are monitoring her closely now to make sure that no post-surgical complications arise. Part of the rehabilitation process means we’ll work to reduce her movement so that she doesn’t overdo it, but this just means she gets more time being offered toys and treats. She has no idea why all the extra fuss but she's enjoying it.

“In four weeks she’ll be back out in the enclosure with her friends and the threat of pain and disease associated with her gallstones will be gone. She’ll be able to get on with enjoying her new life.” 

In 2017, Animals Asia signed a legally binding agreement with the Vietnam government to completely end bear bile farming and send every bear to sanctuary by 2022.

To date, Animals Asia has rescued over 200 bears in Vietnam and a further 418 in China, mostly from the bear bile industry.