In November, 2011 Animals Asia rescued fourteen moon bears (Asiatic black bears-also called moon bears due to the yellow crescent on their chests) from a bear bile farm in Binh Duong Province, South Vietnam. In parts of Asia, beautiful, sweet, and sensitive moon bears are held in cages and painfully milked for their bile for as long as thirty years. The bile is used in traditional Asian medicine, despite the existence of many herbal alternatives. As many as 14,000 moon bears are currently living in cruel confines on bear farms today. Through its End Bear Farming program, Animals Asia works with government officials and farmers to end this cruel practice, housing rescued bears in our China and Vietnam Bear Rescue Centers–tranquil and expansive sanctuaries where the bears may live out the rest of their lives in peace and safety.
After a five-day trip by truck from the Binh Duong Province in South Vietnam, the recently rescued bears arrived at their new home, the Animals Asia Vietnam Bear Rescue Center in Tam Dao, near Hanoi. Though their arrival marked a great moment of liberation for the formerly incarcerated bears, coming to a new safe home is just the beginning of the process for many rescued bears. In addition to psychological and emotional trauma, bears arriving from farms face a myriad of medical challenges that need to be treated in order for them to live happy and healthy lives.
One such bear is Dream, who arrived with the group in November. Dream’s health issues include two disfigured legs (most likely the result of having been trapped in the wild to be brought to the farm). Her left forepaw is missing, while her right forepaw is deformed and permanently bent under. She also had badly decayed teeth–with all of her canines broken (probably the result of biting the bars of her cage), making chewing close to impossible. “She was very withdrawn and lethargic,” according to Vietnam Veterinary Surgeon Kirsty Officer. Bear workers in Vietnam, Tuan and Công named her “Dream” because, “She was a very miserable bear and needed to dream of nice things.”
In addition to the more obvious symptoms of abuse, some hemorrhage was discovered at the back of one of Dream’s eyes when she was health-checked. This can be an indication of a number of serious systemic diseases. Over the coming months the cause of this will be investigated further in hopes that whatever is causing it may be treated.
Dream offered a great moment of inspiration at the sanctuary. As the newly arrived bear lay sleeping on the surgery table for her health check, oblivious to the sights around her, Vet Kirsty captured an ultrasound image of her gall bladder (where bile originates) perfectly shaped like a Valentine’s Day heart. It was a flash on the screen that helped to motivate the Animals Asia team.
Dream underwent dental surgery immediately upon her arrival, to alleviate the pain in her mouth. Her shattered teeth were repaired or removed and infections were cleared up. She has now been living at the sanctuary for over two months and her mouth is healing. Officer says, “…there are definitely signs of improvement and change. She has been eating much better than when she first arrived, and has gained [approximately 29 lbs] in body weight which is a great sign. She is coping amazingly well with her lack of functional forepaws.” She also is enjoying the delicious enrichment items offered to her at the sanctuary. Of the treats she is given, she particularly loves the dried fruit and frozen bamboo feeders filled with flavored water.
Dream still has big challenges to face. Due to her missing left and deformed right forepaws, she rarely moves around her temporary cage. It would likely be painful and awkward for her to do so. The vet team are concerned about her ability to walk when the time comes to move her out of her recovery cage and into a bigger den. Once she is fully recovered from her dental operation, x-rays will be taken of the bent foot, to assess if there is anything that can be done to enable her to move more freely.
Despite her disabilities, Dream “manages to stand up and pull her browse and straw through the roof of her cage with her mouth, and then uses them to create a lovely cozy nest,” according to Officer. The Vietnam staff still have their concerns about Dream, however she is brighter and more alert than when she arrived, and continues down the road of recovery from the horrors of bear farming. Hopefully there will come a day when no bear will endure what Dream has.