While many spend the 4th of July celebrating the freedom and independence of the United States, we spent this day at the Chengdu Bear Rescue Center. This rescue center was started in 1998 by Jill Robinson who first discovered the horrors of bear bile farming in 1993. Jill was originally a journalist living in Hong Kong when she was sent to cover a story on mainland China about bear bile farming. When she arrived at the farm, she was taken to a dark basement where she saw moon bears being kept in tiny cages, unable to move. Jill was shocked at the treatment of the bears and learned that these bears never see daylight and are
kept in these cages for their entire lives, sometimes up to 30 years if they even make it that long. While walking between the cages, one of the female bears stuck her paw out and touched Jill’s shoulder. Jill turned around and looked into the bear’s eyes and knew that the bear was asking for help. From this time on, Jill Robinson dedicated her life to ending the atrocities of bear bile farming and began a lifelong journey of rescuing the bears that were suffering on these farms. She started AnimalsAsia, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping all animals, such as dogs and cats throughout Asia.
Over 10,000 bears are still kept in bear bile farms throughout China. Even more bear bile farms exist in Vietnam, where AnimalsAsia has another bear rescue center. The bears were originally caught in the wild so most of them have suffered amputations from the traps in which they were caught. The farmers who catch these bears do not use proper medical procedures or provide medicine to the bears, but saw off their limbs in order to take them to the camps. Sometimes, the bears’ paws will be cut off merely to make bear paw soup. Their claws and teeth are also cut out to make the bears “safer.” Although the bear bile is used for medicinal purposes, a cruel and painful process is used in order to extract it from the bears. This process involves “surgery,” or cutting a hole to move the gall bladder to a more convenient
location in the bear. This surgery is done in terrible conditions with no pain treatment and leaves permanent holes in the abdomen, causing infections and diseases to occur. Furthermore, the bears are given poor cereal-based “swill” that does not meet their nutritional needs. The bears are also forced to wear heavy metal jackets to collect the bile with a metal prong extending to below their jaws so they cannot lick their wounds. To make the bile extraction more convenient, the bears are often pinned to the bottom of the cages by metal bars. The bears are unable to move around for the remainder of their lives in these bear cages. Their life spans are usually cut in half, if not shortened even more.
Having the chance to visit the bear rescue center was both happy and sad. Before coming to China, I had no idea that bear bile farming even existed. I had even traveled through Vietnam and did not realize that such terrible acts were being done to these animals. Bears are not the only animals being farmed for their living body parts. The Chinese are also doing the same to tigers and are trying to start farming rhinos. I asked the guide at the bear center if bear farms are illegal and
she told me it was complicated. Sometimes they are allowed because the demand for such products is so high, and sometimes they are illegal. There are no animal cruelty laws in China. Not all the bears that are rescued at the bear center have happy endings. Some die just days after being rescued because of their physical deterioration, while others died within a few years after suffering from diseases caused by the bear bile extraction. There is a large bear cemetery at the rescue center that gives names and
causes of death of each of the bears rescued. Many of the bears also suffer from psychological problems such as memory loss and PTSD. At the bear center, they have special facilities for bears who suffer from physical or mental deficits. Despite the tragic history of bear bile farming, it was amazing to see the resiliency of the bears who live there now. Those who were rescued and have survived the horrors of bear bile farming now have the chance for freedom. They are able to play in the water, sleep in the grass, climb trees, and make best friends. It was rewarding to see how much of a difference one person can make that has touched so may animal and human lives.