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Animals Asia: Rescuing Moon Bears From Bear Bile Farms

In parts of Asia, an estimated 14,000+ sweet, sensitive and endangered moon bears (named for the crescent shaped stripe across their chests) are held captive in small cages on farms while being milked for their bile. The bile is used in traditional Asian medicine, despite the existence of many herbal alternatives. These beautiful bears are usually kept in “crush” cages, lacking even the space to turn around, frequently with (often rusty) catheters or sometimes just open holes in their abdomens. They are incarcerated in this way, suffering extraordinary emotional and physical pain, for as long as thirty years. International animal welfare nonprofit organization Animals Asia works with government officials and bear farmers to rescue the bears, who are brought to our organization’s two placid and expansive Moon Bear Rescue Centers (in China and Vietnam). There they have the opportunity to live out the rest of their lives in peace, with room to romp, water to splash in, and many treats to munch on.

Only days ago, fourteen such bears made their way from a bear farm in Binh Duong Province, South Vietnam to our Moon Bear Rescue Center in Tam Dao, near Hanoi. At this particular farm, bears are kept in small cages, drugged and restrained while unsterilized four-inch needles are jabbed into their gall bladders to extract bile. The  bears were released when one of the four owners of the farm, Mr Nguyen Ngoc Tien had a change of heart after learning about Animals Asia’s work on a television program and decided to give his bears a chance at a happy life. As Animals Asia prepared the bears for their departure, other bears on the farm were visibly upset to see their friends go. The three additional owners of the farm chose to maintain their business —these other farmed bears were not so lucky as to leave.

Following a five-day journey by truck convoy, the bears arrived at the Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Center in Vietnam to join other rescued bears at the sanctuary. All of the bears from farms come to the Moon Bear Rescue Centers with severe medical issues, and our new residents from Binh Duong were no exception. The group arrived at the sanctuary with fractured teeth, infected mouths, skin conditions, abdominal hernias and obesity. They are likely to be suffering internal damage from the bile extractions as well, which will be detected during health checks in coming weeks. Many had missing and maimed limbs, indicative of being trapped in the wild.

At the sanctuaries, the moon bears–who have the intelligence of three year olds–are given names, extraordinary medical care, nourishing food, swings to lounge on and grass on which to trot, roll and play. Their strong personalities finally have space to express themselves, as in the case of Jasper—the great peacemaker of the Chengdu sanctuary—whom the younger bears look up to as an older brother. Despite their time spent painfully incarcerated on farms, the bears are quick to find joy in their new surroundings. In this video Benji can be seen happily playing in the water.

Animals Asia founder and CEO Jill Robinson established Animals Asia in 1998. She was inspired to work with moon bears after hearing about their plight as victims to the bear farming industry, and then visiting a bile farm to see it for herself. She broke away from her tour group, going to where the animals were kept and milked, finding terrified bears kept in horrifying conditions. Despite their fear of humans, one of the bears took Jill’s hand gently in her paw. It was then that Jill was compelled to end bear farming and to invest her efforts in rescuing these innocent animals that had fallen victim to the cruel trade. Today the organization hosts headquarters in Hong Kong and offices in Australia, China, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA, in addition to sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. Animals Asia works with bear farmers and government officials to close down bear farms and make whole provinces bear farm free. So far, we’ve closed down 43 Chinese farms and seen 20 of mainland China’s 31 provinces become proudly bear farm-free. We’ve rescued a total of 277 bears in China and 104 in Vietnam. We also work to reduce the demand for bile in Asia by promoting affordable, effective and cruelty free alternatives.

One of the great misconceptions about China is that there is an absence of concern for animals among Chinese citizens. The truth is that there is a huge animal welfare movement growing up among the people of China. Their voices and activism offer invaluable support for our mission to end bear farming and to provide comfortable shelter for the bears.

We’ve made a great deal of progress for the bears since 1998, with so many coming to live new lives at the sanctuaries. But there are still many thousands living on farms throughout Asia, and still much work to be done.