James Cromwell is helping Animals Asia to build a sanctuary in Vietnam for Asiatic black bears, and sun bears rescued from bile farms.

Source: Animals Asia/Youtube

The actor and long-time activist is working with Animals Asia to raise awareness about the new sanctuary and demand an end to bear bile farms. The new sanctuary is being built to comfortably hold and care for the last Asiatic black bears and sun bears that are in bear bile farms across the country. Animals Asia has been working for years to end bear bile farms, and this new build won’t be the first sanctuary in the country. Their previous sanctuary houses nearly 200 rescue bears.

Animals Asia was founded in 1998 and has spent years trying to end the horrible realities of bear bile farming in Vietnam. The organization’s founder, Jill Robinson, told PEOPLE that after decades of hard work, they are on “the cusp of ending bear farming once and for all in Vietnam, which is the most thrilling thing ever because of the collaboration of the Vietnam government there.”

There are an estimated 310 bears still on bile farms around the country who need to be moved to sanctuaries. The existing sanctuary in Vietnam is nearly full, which is why they have begun to build a second sanctuary.

Source: Animals Asia/Youtube

Bear bile farming consists of locking bears, usually Asiatic black bears or sun bears, in wire cages so small they cannot move around. The animals are hooked up with catheters and are “milked” for their bile over and over again for the rest of their lives. Their bile is then used in traditional medicine.

Robinson, told PEOPLE, “Because the bears are kept in tiny wire cages for their entire life, they have multiple physical and psychological problems. Very often, when we rescue them, the first thing that we’re looking at is what we call ‘Broken bears,'” she said.

“Many of them have had abdominal mutilations from where they’ve had a crude, surgical intervention to extract their bile. Many of them are blind. Many of them are missing limbs from having been caught in the wild in leg hold traps. Many of them have horrible mobility problems. Many of them have heart problems,” she adds of the cruelty bears endure at bile farms.

Robinson says that the resilience of the rescue bears never ceases to amaze her.

“Once we bring them into our sanctuary, it may take days, it may take weeks, it may take months for that trust to — and you suddenly see a spark, a light that comes into their eyes. Anyone that’s rescued a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about. You suddenly see that mindset switch,” she says.

“Their personalities start to emerge. That is the most beautiful thing to see. Bears that were horribly traumatized are now turning somersaults on their own in the grass just because they can. They’re in playful bear bundles with their friends just because they can. They’re foraging in huge expanses of forest in the sanctuary just because they can. They have choices of whatever they want to do, of whatever they want to eat throughout the day as well. It’s a privilege to be working with these species to really begin to understand the animal they are,” she adds.

The charity is still raising the money needed for the construction. To learn more about Animals Asia and how you can help with their new sanctuary, please visit Animals Asia.

Vietnam has already agreed to close all bear bile farms, now sign this petition to ask Malaysia once and for all to end bear bile trade within their borders!

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