Tibetan macaque John trains to participate in his own veterinary care at our China Bear Rescue Centre

04 June 2020

Despite its name our bear rescue centre in Chengdu China is not only home to bears and their carers. In addition rescued cats, dogs and one gorgeous Tibetan macaque called John have also made it their home.

John arrived at the China Bear Rescue Centre on 21 June 2003 and was estimated to be 4-5 years old. The Ministry of Forestry (now known as National Forestry and Grassland Administration) had asked Animals Asia for assistance when John, who at the time was being held as an exotic pet, turned on his owners and other villagers. He was rescued from a balcony and brought to our sanctuary where he received a full health check and was carefully integrated into an enclosure with another macaque called Maddy who was the sole macaque resident at the time.

John lived with Maddy until she passed away in 2010. His next play mate was Xiao Xiong Xiong who arrived in September 2011 having been rescued from a restaurant where he was kept as a pet. He and John were integrated in February 2012 and lived together for the next seven and a half years, until Xiao Xiong Xiong passed away unexpectedly in August 2019. But John still receives plenty of attention and mental stimulation from our bear care team. Bear Team Manager Molly Feldman does training with him five times per week and visits him multiple times per day to give him fresh bamboo shoots, which he goes crazy for. He also gets four enrichment sessions per day.

John at CBRC

Here you can see one of our bear team managers Molly practicing John’s training which helps keep him mentally stimulated as well as being very useful for veterinary purposes. For example, at one point in his life John had alopecia (hair loss) so he was trained, using positive reinforcement, to present his back which allowed the plucking of hair samples that our vet team sent off for analysis.

You can also see Molly training John to open his mouth and hold it open for certain periods of time so our vets can see how his teeth look. Tibetan macaques are a very social species and we do training to encourage a relationship and rapport building between John and his carers. All of the training we do at the China Bear Rescue Centre and at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre is carried out through barriers. Our teams will never enter the enclosure or space that John inhabits for health and safety reasons and more importantly out of respect for John and his space.

John has learned how to “shift” (move from A to B), “station” (stay in one place), touch a target stick with his right and left hands as well as holding a target stick with hands and feet, allowing trainers to touch and hold his hand and touch his back.

Molly practices John’s training

The Tibetan macaque is listed as near threatened despite being one of the most widespread primate species in China, distributed across 13 provinces with an estimated population size of 20,000. However the Tibetan macaque are not as widespread as they once were and due to habitat loss are currently found mainly in small and isolated locations. They are the largest of any macaque species with adult males reaching roughly 15kg.

Now rather than being kept as an exotic pet John lives a life full of daily enrichment, a carefully balanced diet and world class health care at our award winning sanctuary. Rather than being trained with punishments to entertain people he’s rewarded with positive reinforcement to make his healthcare as stress free as possible for both John and our vet team. We absolutely adore John, he’s very much a part of our Animals Asia family!

The macaques love pomegranates