Animals Asia is currently marking the 20th anniversary of our founder Jill Robinson’s first visit to a bear bile farm. In the years since that first visit in 1993, Jill has become widely recognised as the face of Animals Asia’s work to end bear bile farming – what is less well known is that the moon bear face in our logo is that of a very special bear.
That special bear is Xie Sheung, who has been living at our sanctuary in Chengdu since 23 October 2009.
Here we look back at Xie Sheung’s rescue, his special significance for Jill, and how his image became a symbol of hope in the campaign to free his fellow bears.
“…Xie Sheung is such a super handsome bear that his face became the logo we use to this day. He’s always described as a ‘kind’ bear and gets on exceptionally well with other bears and people alike.”
– Jill Robinson
In 1995, Xie Sheung was among nine bears rescued from the torture of a bile farm in Huizhou, a city in Guangdong province, close to Hong Kong. This was the first rescue initiated by Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson.
Finally free from their terrible cages, the bears were cared for at a rescue centre run by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in nearby Panyu. In the years that followed, Jill continued to work towards ending bear bile farming, establishing Animals Asia in 1998 and opening our own bear sanctuary in Chengdu in 2000.
Thirteen years after their rescue, the decision was made to transfer the five surviving Huizhou bears to Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Chengdu in order to integrate them into a larger social group and provide them with the special facilities their ageing bodies required.
Being reunited with the five ageing members of that first group of rescued bears in 2009 was a happy moment for Jill Robinson. But welcoming “Xie Sheung” was particularly meaningful.
“When we designed Animals Asia’s logo, we based it on a profile shot of handsome Xie Sheung – so he’s our figurehead in a way,” said Jill.
“Also, when I invited our government partners, the China Wildlife Conservation Association, to give a name to one of the bears at the time of their rescue in 1995, I was expecting them to choose a Chinese name. But they promptly came back with ‘Jill’s son’.”
“I explained that we really wanted them to offer a Chinese name, so they chose ‘Xie Sheung’, [吉祥] because it sounded like ‘Jill’s son’ and had the English meaning ‘Lucky’.
”Xie Sheung has certainly lived up to his name.
“He’s a very lucky bear indeed,” said Jill in 2009. “He survived his terrible years on a bear farm, and spent 13 wonderful years at IFAW’s Panyu sanctuary.”
By 2009, four of the nine bears at Panyu had passed away. The remaining five – Digger (also known as Dagua), Hong (named in memory of ‘Hong’ the bear who initially inspired Jill’s work to end bear bile farming, but who sadly could not be rescued), Chu Chu Bebe and Xie Sheung – were ageing and in need of specialised geriatric care. At this point our rescue centre in Chengdu was already firmly established. And so, as our team had experience of looking after older bears and were able to provide the bears with a larger, more stable social structure, the decision was made to transfer them to Chengdu.
“I was thrilled when IFAW raised the possibility of transferring the bears to our sanctuary,” said Jill at the time. “They have provided exceptional care for the bears… and it’s now a great privilege to be able to care for them in their senior years. The move is in the best interests of the bears and, for me, it’s a very special reunion with old friends.”
Jill and a team of vets and bear managers from Animals Asia and IFAW travelled the 2,100km (almost 1,305 miles) between Panyu and Chengdu – a 48-hour non-stop road trip.
“We set off around midday on Sunday (18 October, 2009) and drove through two nights, crossing the provinces of Guangdong, Guanxi, Guizhou, Chongqing, and finally Sichuan, arriving at our Chengdu sanctuary at 10.30am on Tuesday (20 October). No-one had time to feel tired as we were so excited to be back and wanted to get the bears settled into their new environment as quickly as possible to minimise stress.”
More than three years on, handsome, easy-going Xie Sheung spends his days with the 13 other bears in House 9 – including his old friends Bebe and Hong from the original Huizhou group (Chu Chu was moved to another house because of mobility problems and Digger sadly passed away).
Although we don’t know Xie Sheung’s age for sure, he’s now a very senior bear – at least 25 years old. Happily, this wonderful old gentleman is largely in robust good health, and despite some stiffness in his joints he still loves to play outside on the grass with his friends.
We all hope that Xie Sheung will be with us for many more years to come. But whatever the future holds, he will always be known as our lucky “logo bear”!
For more on the original Huizhou rescue and the transfer of the bears from Panyu to Chengdu, take a look at Jill’s blog from October 2009.