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Animals Asia cares for nearly 120 bears on a former bile farm in Nanning, China. We originally intended to build a sanctuary on site, but now we plan to move the bears to our sanctuary in Chengdu. We’re just waiting for final permission.

After a year of behind-the-scenes negotiations and planning, in May 2014, came Animals Asia’s historic agreement to take over the care of 132 bears on a former bile farm in Nanning, China. We had the go-ahead to build a sanctuary on site and started planning right away. Ironically, the dilapidated farm was in the middle of a beautiful horticultural estate. The location, near the Vietnamese border, was truly stunning – mountainous and lush – and we had high hopes that soon these brave bears would be out in the sunshine enjoying the glorious scenery for themselves.

It was a mammoth undertaking, but these poor bears desperately needed our help, and we knew our supporters were behind us.

Bile extraction had stopped at the farm in 2011, but its painful legacy and the low quality of care the bears received remained. So our bear care and vet teams immediately set to work to make the bears as comfortable as possible.

Nanning Scene

It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, idyllic setting...

Nanning Farm

...was the scene of such unimaginable horror.

Cage after cage of untold misery and terror. But that was all about to change...

Cage after cage of untold misery and terror. But that was all about to change...

These poor bears had been kept for years in horrific conditions.

They didn’t even have free access to fresh water. Their diet was totally inappropriate too – corn buns and a tasteless rice and bran gruel. These were switched for a delicious mix of fruit and vegetables supplemented with nourishing dog biscuits. And all the bears got water troughs so they could drink whenever they were thirsty.

Meanwhile yard by yard, cage by cage, all areas were cleaned with pressure washers, and cubs like Smudge – the last cub born on the farm – were integrated with other bears for companionship. Each bear was given at least an indoor yard where they could stroll around.

Food Boxes

The bears were thrilled with their tasty new diet – fresh every day and full of goodness.


As well as fresh drinking water, they also enjoyed gloriously refreshing hose showers...


Hose shower

... which they adored, and still can’t get enough of today!

Health checks started right away.

The first few weeks were particularly tough. It was very hot and humid, and there was no air-conditioning on the farm. The vet team didn’t even have an examination table, so health-checks were done on the concrete floor. Sessions lasted up to nine hours without a break.

By July 2014, we had a basic surgery room – and air con – but it remained a very difficult environment to work in. Not least because we were without much of the specialised veterinary equipment we relied on back at our sanctuary in Chengdu and staff were always stretched between the two sites.

Over the years, while our managers and carers have worked on site with the bears, our stoic vet team has made countless trips to Nanning to perform their healing magic on the bears. Sometimes to clip long claws in danger of becoming ingrown. Sometimes to treat a bear with worrying diarrhoea. Sometimes to perform life-saving surgery.

Emily Drayton

Senior Vet Emily (Eddie) Drayton already has her hands full caring for bears like Ginny at our Chengdu sanctuary – where at least the vet team has the latest veterinary equipment...


...but on top of this, they make numerous extended trips each year – dealing with very basic clinical conditions – to make sure the Nanning bears get the very best care too. This is vet Rachel Sanki in action.


Many of the Nanning bears have needed emergency surgery to provide relief from crippling pain... and for some it’s been life-saving.

Claws Clipped

The bears receive regular ‘manicures’ to stop their claws piercing their paw pads.

A major challenge was improving the mental health of the bears. Many showed signs of distress. Stereotypical behaviour – like pacing and head swaying was common.

China Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field is in charge of the bears’ overall well-being. She explained that to help them recover, their carers introduced simple items to keep them stimulated – balls, puzzle feeders, ice blocks, giant banana leaves and strong smelling smears such as peanut butter and stinky tofu. The bears loved them.

And thanks to a generous UK donor, each of these gorgeous bears got their very own paddling pool!


Ronnie aka John makes the most of his paddling pool...

Wai Kee and Smudge

... while Wai Kee and Smudge are happy to double dip.

Alex Ball

Alex loves his ball... tossing it across his yard then lolloping happily after it.

Late in 2015, we learned we could no longer build a sanctuary at Nanning... the entire site had been sold to developers! While this was definitely a surprise – and a setback – we had no option but to look for the positive. We would move the Nanning bears ‘home’ to our sanctuary in Chengdu.

In fact it made sense. Our sanctuary population was dwindling and the remaining population were mostly geriatric.

But it was a massive undertaking in itself, requiring a series of 1,200-kilometre trips. We started planning straight away.

But that was not our biggest problem... the problem was, and remains today, the ongoing internal takeover of the entire horticulture facility, with the bears part of the overall ‘package’, despite the promise remaining that they will still be allowed to join us in Chengdu.


Lovely old Bronwyn is one of a number of elderly bears who’ve passed away at our Chengdu sanctuary in recent years. With its falling population, the sanctuary now has more space to house the bears from Nanning.

We’re still waiting for the ‘package’ to be agreed by the authorities and stakeholders in Nanning! We already have agreement that we can take the bears, but not the final permission needed to actually get these poor animals on the road. This despite our every effort to encourage the bears being separated from the horticulture package and allowed safe passage to our Chengdu sanctuary.

In the words of our founder and CEO Jill Robinson:

‘We’ve learned not to expect anything, so the word now is “hope”.

‘But if Animals Asia stands for one thing, it’s commitment to animals, and while frustration grows, what keeps us going is precisely that – commitment to these bears. We could never turn our backs on them – we promised our help and duty of care from the second we saw them, and that promise will be kept. We will bring them home.’

Since taking over their care, more than a dozen of these beautiful bears have died, never to walk on grass, never to make it home. But at least they finally knew how it felt to be loved and lived their final years in peace and contentment.

Meanwhile the surviving bears continue to get the very best care possible, and their lives are immeasurably better under our care. Most importantly, every one of these brave animals is loved beyond words.


Kind words and fruity shakes mean the world to bears like gentle little Jeanne.

Puzzle feeder

Simple bamboo puzzle feeders keep the bears occupied for hours.


Baloo still has the scars from years of frustrated rubbing against his cage bars. But he’s a much happier bear today.


And of course we love to spoil these beautiful bears. Happy Christmas, Francis!

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