When the bears arrive at our sanctuaries, they are transferred to recovery cages and moved to the quarantine area. Here they are given water and food, and assessed and prioritised for treatment depending on their condition and the extent of their injuries.

Health checks may be conducted immediately, or several weeks after the bears’ arrival, when they have built up their strength in preparation for the anaesthesia.

During the health check, the vet team make a full assessment of each bear’s condition – using ultrasound to check the abdomen and assess the extent of problems related to bile extraction, taking blood, examining teeth, cleaning ears, trimming claws, and in some cases taking X-rays to examine the condition of the bears’ joints and spraying their bodies against parasites – in order to prioritise individuals for any surgery that might be needed.

In Chengdu, many of the bears we receive need to undergo major abdominal surgery – either to remove the crude metal catheters embedded in their abdomens or to repair the "free-drip" hole from which bile was extracted. During this surgery, which can last up to eight hours, the bears are also thoroughly checked for other ailments, with many undergoing a cholecystectomy to remove the damaged gall bladder, as well as dental extractions and even amputations. At the China sanctuary, malebears are also desexed to prevent aggression during rehabilitation and to help group socialisation.

Bears recovering from surgery are closely monitored by our veterinary team, who oversee their daily medication – disguising bitter-tasting antibiotics and pain-killers in thick, fruity shakes.