I am so glad that Julia wrote this post as I was about to write a similar post about moon bears here in China. As Julia mentioned, the largest threat to endangered wildlife here in China (most of Asia it appears) is the illegal wildlife trade. Like Loas, China’s largest market for illegal wildlife is traditional medicines, among the largest is bear bile. The bile from Moon Bears in particular is highly valued and because of this giant farms (technically illegal in China but not enforced) are started to “farm” the bile. The pictures Julia posted are actually some of the more humane cages I have seen on farms. Many of the cages are barely big enough for the entire bear so the farmers have less chance of getting harmed.
Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia, shares the most chilling description of the bears, “it was as if a horror story was unfolding itself frame by frame. Row after row of tiny wire cages held living, breathing bears as prisoners – bears, I was later to discover, which had spent 13 years of their life behind bars. Resembling victims of medieval torture, these pitiful animals turned around to reveal infected, gaping wounds in their stomachs, from which protruded rusting, metal catheters. At one point I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a female moon bear reaching out through the cage. Without thinking, I took her paw and, whilst gazing into sad, dark, unblinking eyes, made a pledge that one day I’d be back to set her free.”
That critical, heartbreaking experience set the foundations for Animals Asia which is devoted to the welfare of wild and urban animals in Asia. Animals Asia has headquarters in Hong Kong and offices in Australia, China, Germany, Italy, the UK and USA, as well as Moon Bear Rescue Centres in China and Vietnam. We have around 270 staff worldwide. They have signed agreements with both the Chinese and Vietnamese governments to rescue 700 bears from the torture of bile farms, and bring them to our sanctuaries to live out their lives in peace and safety.
I personally got the chance to visit the Chengdu rescue center while working there in 2005. I can not describe the heart wrenching feelings I got when confronted with bears missing paws from being trapped in the wild. Or while visiting just rescued bears who have to be gradually stepped up in cage sizes so they don’t experience emotional and physical shock after spending 13 years in a cage no smaller than their bodies. Just imagine how degraded your muscles would be if you couldn’t move more than a couple of centimeters for 13 years and how your brain would not be able to coup with large enclosures. Nor can I describe how completely moving it is to see these same bears enter their new, large, enriched enclosures for the first time! What a great cause!
At present, Animals Asia has around 250 rescued bears at their sanctuaries in China and Vietnam and have rescued a total of 350 bears (though sadly many do not survive after rescues). In China, they’re working with conservation leaders in Beijing as well as forestry leaders in individual provinces to close down farms and make whole provinces bear-farm free. To date they’ve closed down 43 Chinese farms and have seen 20 of mainland China’s 31 provinces become proudly bear farm-free. They also work to reduce the demand for bile in Asia by promoting affordable, effective and cruelty-free alternatives. So if you’re looking to support a GREAT cause (you know besides ours!), go visit Animals Asia and read a little more about their work.