Vietnam and China bears benefit from Animal Health Trust, UK

15 June 2012

Once again we were very fortunate to have the veterinary ophthalmology specialists from the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in the UK visit our moon bear rescue centres in both Vietnam and China.

The team this time consisted of AHT veterinary ophthalmologists David Donaldson and Claudia Hartley – on their third and fourth visits respectively – AHT theatre manager James Gasson, and volunteer vet nurse Emily Gorman who has also spent time working with our bears on-site in Chengdu. They were very generous in donating their time, surgical consumables and the use of their specialist equipment.


The team prepare for surgery in Vietnam, where two bears had their vision restored.

The team was not given much time to settle in after their long flight from the UK as there were 24 bears and a dog to get though in a six and a half day period!

More bears had been rescued since the team’s last visit in September 2010, and there were many new eye cases waiting to benefit from their specialist attention, and some of the bears previously treated were ready to be re-assessed.

Without a doubt, the highlights of this visit were the two surgical cases, Murko and Kollo.

Murko had a cataract removed from his left eye, meaning that he can now see out of both eyes instead of only one. He is such an active and playful bear, and it was perfect timing as he is soon to be introduced to a large group of bears and then will go into an outside enclosure for the first time – it is so exciting that he will have sight in both of his eyes to make the most of these big changes in his life!

Kollo, who had been blind for many years, now views life anew after surgery.

Kollo had severe cataracts in both of his eyes, and has not been able to see through them for many years. Claudia and David, assisted by their brilliant team, removed both cataracts, thereby restoring the sight of this little bear, and massively contributing to an improvement in his quality of life.

While these were the highlights, all the other eye examinations were just as valuable for what they contributed to our knowledge of eye disease in our bears and our ability to optimise the management of our eye cases on-site. Thankfully, a number of the bears examined had nothing serious going on, which is not only a big relief, but also adds to our knowledge of what are normal variations rather than concerning changes.

Sadly there were some cases that could not be helped – such as Faith, where the damage to her right eye was so severe that nothing could be done to repair the sight. Others require further testing and there are also a number of cases with changes in the eyes that are an indication of problems perhaps occurring somewhere else in the body.

We were very lucky to have the ophthalmologists’ opinions on these to help better define the changes, and we will continue to work together to get to the bottom of each case.

Overall it was a very productive week, and in addition to our own staff, two vets from Cambodia and three vets from Hanoi also attended, providing them with an amazing opportunity to learn about eyes from some world experts.


AHT opthalmologist, David Donaldson gets to work in Chengdu, with a long list of bears to take care of.

Following on from a full week of health checks and surgeries at the Vietnam rescue centre, the AHT ophthalmology team arrived at the China rescue centre and got straight into the examinations and surgeries. Over a two week period, 35 bears were health checked and multiple bears received visual checks in dens.

Several bears, including Snoopy whose sight was partially restored on a previous trip, were rechecked and are receiving ongoing monitoring by the AHT team and our own veterinary team. They were also able to identify some unusual changes in some of the bears eyes and offered treatment plans and ongoing technical support.

Claudia Hartley on her fourth visit, dedicated to changing the quality of life for many bears.

Several bears received eyelid surgery and also surgery to remove excessive skin folds to improve their comfort levels and reduce irritation of their eyes and therefore improve their sight. Further to this Claudia and David demonstrated to our veterinary team a method by which the back of the eye can be photographed which will enable them to offer further ongoing advice.

It was a hugely productive few weeks. Senior vet Monica did a wonderful job in coordinating and scheduling the whole visit. The entire vet team – Monica, Jo, Wendy, Karli and Vicki – worked tirelessly each day, health-checking up to five bears in a single day.

Vet nurse Emily Gorman, now with AHT, back at the China Moon Bear Rescue Centre.

Meanwhile, Bear Managers Sofie, Heidi and Sal continued managing the centre in between loading each bear for their health check and our brilliant moving team led by Bear Team Supervisors, Howard, Ai and Rocky worked their socks off constantly transferring bears to and from the hospital.

We are extremely grateful to Claudia, David and Emily for donating their valuable time to the bears. Our bears deserve nothing less than expert care and they received that with the expertise of this wonderful group of people.

This trip was also made possible thanks to the support of our wonderful donor, Sharon Pearson, Founder and CEO of The Coaching Institute in Melbourne, who has also funded our recent bear rescues in China and Vietnam.