Tragic death of newly rescued bear deepens resolve to empty every cage in Vietnam

24 May 2019

Amy in cage before being rescued, Phung Thuong April 2019

Barely a month on from rescue, moon bear Amy – the first bear rescued from Vietnam’s last bile farm hotspot – loses her fight for life.

Moon bear Amy arrived at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in a shroud of secrecy. 

Three years of community outreach had resulted in the first family in Phung Thuong village – Vietnam’s last bear bile farming hotspot – agreeing to send one of their bears to sanctuary.

To avoid social unrest and reprisals on the former bile farmer, only a handful of people knew about Amy’s rescue. But vitally, she was finally going to leave the village alive, unlike so many poor bears before her.

When she arrived at sanctuary, it became clear just how sick this little bear was.

Amy weighed just 82 kilogrammes, around half her natural body weight.

Broken teeth had led to infection which had spread into her bone and nose creating a hole in her nasal cavity.

Her gall bladder was diseased from years of bile extraction, her right forelimb missing from where she was trapped in the wild, and a portion of her tongue had been torn out.

Her right ankle was fused and unable to bend, she had arthritis throughout her body and her left ankle was deeply scarred consistent with a snare injury.

And yet, for all that she had suffered, little Amy clung to life.

Animals Asia Bear Manager Sarah van Herpt said:

“Amy was a beautiful soul and an incredible fighter. On her first day in sanctuary, as we took her nearly empty food bowl away, she gently, but firmly, pulled the bowl back in. She wasn't going to give up her precious food, not even to get more.

“Since arriving at the sanctuary, her coat changed from sparse and coarse to luscious and fluffy. Her eyes, so sunken on arrival they looked like they were missing, shone with delight as she was given treats. She loved to be showered, she loved to roll around and she loved to play and nest with fresh leaves.”

Sadly, even with the best care in the world, Amy couldn’t be saved. Rescuers were devastated to find she passed away suddenly due to a twisted stomach, a life-threatening condition that sometimes occurs without warning in dogs and other species.

Senior Veterinary Surgeon Shaun Thomson said:

“On post-mortem examination, we found that Amy had died due to her stomach becoming twisted. The condition is medically known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), or more commonly as ‘bloat’.

“As devastated as we all are, we can take some solace from knowing she passed away quickly and with pain relief medication on board from a previous dental surgery, she would not have suffered.”

Following her death, Amy was buried under a tall tree in a quiet corner of Animals Asia’s sanctuary. At her funeral, sanctuary staff read a poem of remembrance and planted carnations.

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

“Amy made it home to her sanctuary, yet didn’t get out onto the grass and into the sunshine as she deserved.

“But I'm grateful we were able to show her she was loved and to give her the respect she never had. Every time the flowers bloom around her grave, their scent will speak of her. They’ll remind us all that for each individual bear, life is truly precious.

“Amy, I promise you, we won’t give up until every one of your brothers and sisters here in Vietnam is free.”

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 more than 200 bears in Vietnam and a further 418 in China, mostly from the bear bile industry.