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The China Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu was Animals Asia’s first bear sanctuary and also the first of its kind in the world. An adventurous project, it is a safe haven combining secure, semi-natural rehabilitation areas with bamboo forest enclosures designed to provide the bears with a secure and stimulating environment for the remaining years of their lives and to act as a centre for research and education.

Since 2000, when the Chinese government gave us access to an abandoned wildlife sanctuary and the first 63 rescued bears arrived, the centre has seen continual developments and improvements. Today there are 11 bear houses and 15 natural and semi-natural enclosures – including two special-care enclosures for old or mobility-challenged bears, and two special enclosures for brown bears. These can currently house around 250 bears, depending on their needs (extra space is required for special-needs bears). Many of the enrichment furnishings and toys that the bears enjoy in their enclosures have been made from local materials and built onsite by our own bear horticulture team.

The sanctuary also has a fully-equipped veterinary hospital, a sheltered quarantine area, an administrative block, a public education centre, staff accommodation, staff canteen and a bear kitchen. It also incorporates a herb garden for growing natural alternatives to bear bile and a bear cemetary for those friends we have lost. Specially created viewing areas around three bear houses enable staff and visitors to observe the bears close-up in their enclosures.

Peter Egan at Animals Asia's bear<br>sanctuary in Chengdu, China

Peter Egan at Animals Asia's bear
sanctuary in Chengdu, China

The bears we receive at the China sanctuary are in a terrible condition – suffering from abdominal tumours and infections and often some form of heart or liver disease. Up to 90 per cent also have one or more of the following physical impairments: missing limbs, amputated paws, diseased and deformed paw pads, removed claws, extracted or sawn off canine teeth and blindness. On top of this, many have deformity and joint and mobility problems caused by spending years immobile in cages sometimes no bigger than their own bodies.

Despite their poor condition, most make a good recovery, partly because of their stoic and resilient natures, but also because of the professional care they receive from our veterinary team – globally recognised for its expertise in caring for rescued farmed bears in China – and our wonderful on-site managers, workers and expert volunteers. The extensive behavioural and veterinary management programme practised in both sanctuaries also helps to ensure the well-being of all bears during their rehabilitation.

Today, the sanctuary is home to more than 140 happy, healthy bears who snuggle together in their hanging basket beds, tumble out of their dens to play with friends, clamber to the top of much-abused trees, splash in the rock pools, or relax in the grass and enjoy the fresh air – disabled or not.

Although the rescue centre is not officially open to the public, the team hosts about 3,800 visitors each year, including international and Chinese media crews and photographers.

Most visitors take part in the fortnightly open-day tours – offered for up to four groups of 20 people – during which visitors enjoy a close-up view of the bears and learn about the cruelties of bile farming.

The centre also works closely with schools and educational institutions – arranging summer camps for university students from around China and welcoming a constant stream of primary students from the surrounding areas.

To help us build awareness of the realities of the bear bile industry among our visitors and the general public, the Chengdu sanctuary is equipped with a public education classroom housing photo displays and a display of actual cages and equipment from bile farms. These facilities play a pivotal role in our campaign. Soon they will be expanded to include a new education centre and large viewing areas where visitors and researchers can watch the bears in their enclosures.

The team are also actively engaged in various types of off-site educational work – holding workshops in schools and universities; working with veterinary students and the staff of zoos and animal parks; and giving presentations to students and practitioners of traditional medicine to share our research on bile and the cruelty involved in bear bile farming and to encourage medical students and practitioners to pledge not to prescribe bear bile.

The educational programmes developed by our staff have not only helped the rescue centre achieve its reputation as a regional centre for moral and environmental education but also helped to advance the concept of animal welfare in China in a huge way.

More Information

Bear Profiles

Meet some of the most iconic bears that Animals Asia has cared for at its award-winning sanctuaries in China and Vietnam