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These broken paws have become a symbol of bile farm cruelty

20 January 2017

These are the dry, broken, cracked, painful paws of bears rescued from bile farms that have only ever stood on bars.  But they can be mended.

Having never set foot on grass, bears rescued from bile farms almost always suffer from painfully dry cracked paws – so each one mended is beautiful.

For Animals Asia rescue teams, hideously damaged bear paws is all part of the job. It is a near certainty that animals rescued from the bile industry will be suffering from dry paws which have painfully cracked.

Peter's paw

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director Heidi Quine said:

“Cracked paw pads is a typical issue for bears that have not stood on solid ground for years. It is all too frequent in farmed bears as they are never able to walk properly while in a cage, and also as a result of inadequate nutrition, generally poor body condition as well as dehydration.”

Xuan Xuan's paw

On a recent rescue from Vietnam’s Dak Lak province in 2016, moon bear Snow had different problems with his feet. Having never been worn down by natural behaviour, the claws on his feet had curled round and grown into the pads.

One of Snow's mangled hind paws as claws had grown deep into the flesh 2

By the time vets rescued him, the claws had pierced all the way to the bone causing agony for Snow – in a process which would have taken a number of years. Having received no vet care, the resultant wounds were rotting and oozing pus.

Yet amazingly, these injuries do heal.

Nelson sleeping

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“As soon as the bears are transferred into our straw-lined recovery cages and enjoying a nutritious, healthy diet, their feet start to improve. Once in a den, then outside on grass, there is no going back. When the bears are returned to a near-natural environment and able to express instinctive behaviours, their feet slowly become as soft and nicely padded as a healthy bear.”

While special cases like Snow require veterinary assistance to heal their wounds, for the typically dry and cracked paws of bile farm bears, all it takes is a return to instinctive behaviour, a natural environment and time.

Bärli enjoys his swing 4

Jill Robinson a veteran of hundreds of bile farm bear rescues added:

“We know from our experience that the internal damage to bears caused by bile farms is often extensive. Teeth are also usually cracked from bar biting and around a third of our bears suffer at least one missing limb from being caught in the wild in traps.

“But often what you notice first and what sticks with people are the paws. They can be pressed up against bars or we only see them when a bear is anaesthetised and in the middle of a health check. To witness them, so obviously causing so much pain is heartbreaking. The famous portrait of Chengdu Truth (pictured below) who died during her rescue sees her showing her damaged paw to the world. That bear was skeletal but it’s the paw image that is best known. Sadly she wasn’t able to make it to her sanctuary but if she had lived, healing her paw would have been comparatively straightforward. The ease with which this pain can be taken away only makes it more tragic that they suffer in silence for so long without care.”

Moon bear Chengdu Truth on a bear bile farm