Uno’s first year at sanctuary after 18 years on a bile farm

15 October 2021

An unbelievable story

Before we begin, we’d like to set you a challenge: can you think back to what you were doing 18 years ago? Where were you living? What kind of clothes were you wearing? What music were you listening to?

And now think about what you’ve done since then. Have you moved house, had children, changed jobs? How many marriages, births and anniversaries have you celebrated?  

And now imagine living in a dark room that entire time. Spending every single day staring at the same four walls with no mental or physical stimulation, no company, no reason to live. But perhaps worst of all, you had absolutely no say in the matter.

Sounds like a horror film, doesn’t it? 

But for Uno and many others bears like him, this was and is very, very real. 

For 18 years, since he was a cub, Uno languished in a tiny cage in a dark, dank concrete room. The reason? To have his bile routinely extracted to be sold for traditional medicine. 

An important and significant rescue 

Uno was one of the first bears to be rescued from the biggest bear bile farming region in Vietnam, where 146 bears still tragically remain caged.

Although bear bile farming was outlawed in Vietnam in 1992, bear owners were allowed to keep their bears and were not obliged to give them up. Around 375 bears still live in cages across the country, some are still used for illegal bile extraction. 

Animals Asia has worked closely with local communities to build their trust and encourage them to let their bears live at our sanctuary. This takes persistence, diplomacy and patience. 

Our Vietnam Director, Tuan Bendixsen explains, “This was an historic and important rescue and the result of an ongoing campaign by Animals Asia to build trust and respect within the local community.” 

“We need to continue building on the progress we’ve made in this area so other farmers may be encouraged to give up their bears. We’re hopeful that the voluntary surrender of Uno is a sign of changing attitudes towards bile farming in the area.

Uno’s rescue 

After months of building a relationship with Uno’s owner and encouraging him to release Uno into our care, Animals Asia’s rescue team sprang into action. He’d already suffered for 18 years, we didn’t want him to suffer a moment longer.

The team was shocked by what they found on arriving at the owner’s house. Uno had spent his entire life in a cage in a dark cement room with hardly any natural light. He weighed 200kg - obese for a moon bear - because he’d had a poor diet and had never been able to exercise.  

His size had rendered him immobile, so his spine had curved and he was unable to lie down straight. He also had a diseased gall bladder from years of invasive bile extraction. 

We couldn’t wait to get this precious boy back to our sanctuary to start giving him the care, attention, support and love he so desperately needed and deserved. 

The power of kindness... and the sun!

Once back at our sanctuary, our vet team checked Uno over. Senior Veterinary Surgeon Shaun Thomson said, “Poor Uno had been through the wars. Our initial health check revealed that he had a diseased gall bladder – a common condition for bears abused for their bile.”

“He also suffered from a curved spine, likely due to arthritis. We put him on pain relief medication which should improve his quality of life immeasurably.”

Uno was placed on a personalised eating plan to slowly get his weight down and get some much-needed vitamins and minerals into his depleted body. 

Once Uno had completed quarantine and the vet and bear manager teams were happy that he was physically and mentally ready to be integrated with other bears, Uno finally moved to his forever home.

It was a beautiful, bright and sunny winter’s day when Uno took his very first steps onto natural ground. The rescue and bear care team looked on in anticipation as he tentatively stepped outside his den and blinked into the light.  

What happened next was one of the most special moments we’ve witnessed here at Animals Asia. Uno simply sat on the grass, raised his face to feel the warmth of the sun, and closed his eyes. It was as if he knew he was finally free of his cage and could enjoy just being a bear for the first time in his life.

One year on

After a year of care, love, good food, fresh air, good company and exercise, Uno is a different bear to the one we found cooped up in that tiny cage.  

He now spends his days foraging, splashing in the pool and wrestling with best friends PJ and Wilf. He’ll even distract them when they’re eating to encourage them to play with him! It’s as if he’s making up for all that lost time and wants to have as much fun as possible. 

Today, Uno is a happy, healthy bear. But as his name suggests, he is the first bear to be rescued from this specific region. Animals Asia has made a promise to the 373 bears who remain on bile farms across the country: to rescue every last one.

Uno’s incredible story inspired people across the world to support our rescue team with a monthly donation. Could you consider doing the same? Any donation, however big or small, will help us keep our promise and make sure that no bear is left behind.

Read more:

One bear closer to ending bear bile farming in Vietnam

Moon bear Uno soaks up the sun for the first time in 18 years