PICT0002 This is one of the bears already rescued by Animals Asia, now living in their Chengdu sanctuary.

Historic agreement sees Animals Asia working with farm to rescue 130 bears

Animal welfare organisation Animals Asia will convert a bear bile farm in Nanning, China, into a sanctuary following an unprecedented request by the farm to rescue and care for its 130 bears.

In late May, Animals Asia will take 28 of the sickest bears 1,200km in a multi-vehicle convoy back to their existing sanctuary in Chengdu for urgent veterinary attention. Then Animals Asia will also take over the care of the bears on the Nanning bear farm and start the two-year process of turning it into a sanctuary.

The move was instigated by Mr Yan Shaohong, General Manager of Flower World, which runs the bear farm as part of a wider state-invested horticultural business.

The move has been hailed as historic by Animals Asia CEO and founder Jill Robinson MBE, who sees it as a significant step in the charity’s ongoing campaign to end bear bile farming. She said:

“China has long been outraged by this cruel practice and our statistics show 87% of Chinese are against bear bile farming. This negotiation is a result of years of growing awareness and increased opposition, with the bear farmer showing the moral integrity to do the right thing. We believe it can be the start of a wider conversation, with all parties represented, with the aim of finally ending bear bile farming in China. We should never underestimate the importance of rescuing 130 bears, but we believe it can represent so much more than that.”

Mr Yan has described the decision to approach Animals Asia as one fuelled by the desire for the company to get out of the increasingly unpopular and ultimately unprofitable industry. He was also determined that the bears would not be sold onto other farms and continue to suffer cruelty.

He said:

“In the last two years, there has been a lot of discussion about the practice of extracting bear bile.  After several rounds of discussion among the management team of Flower World, we reported the idea of conversion to our superiors and received their approval and support. We decided not to invest further in bear farming – it’s time for change.

“We figured out that selling bears directly to farms could return some of our investment but it wouldn’t be satisfying. Some of the bears here are sick, some had bile extracted previously and some are new-born cubs. If we only transfer those bears into another bear farm, the living condition of them still cannot be guaranteed. We had to find a good placement for those bears –  a trustworthy partner with professional skills.

“We visited the Animals Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu. The centre provides comfortable shelters and a living area simulating a natural environment for bears, where they can have abundant and delicious food, and clean and spacious dens. The animal welfare level in the centre for bears has confirmed our plan to work with Animals Asia. We believe the future for our bears would be improved by working with Animals Asia.”

The undertaking will mean a £3m investment by Animals Asia – covering the initial rescue of 28 bears followed by the sanctuary conversion as well as budgeting for three years of bear care. Existing farm staff will continue to be employed and will work alongside Animals Asia employees and learn from their expertise.

Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine with over 10,000 bears believed to be in farms in China suffering daily extractions in tiny cages and horrific conditions.

The bears at Nanning Bear farm have not had their bile extracted in over two years since Mr Yan decided to end the practice. However many still suffer health problems as a result of earlier extractions as well as issues due to their confinement in small cages, poor diets and lack of veterinary care.

To date Animals Asia has rescued 285 bears in China. This will be the biggest bear rescue ever attempted anywhere in the world. Animals Asia is the only organisation with a bear sanctuary in China.

Animals Asia China Director of External Affairs Toby Zhang said:

“We are opening the doors of a bile farm to the world. In doing so we are showing that a bile farm can close, be converted, and have a cruelty free future. We will be working with Mr Yan to investigate a sustainable model for what will become the Nanning Bear Rescue Centre – Animals Asia’s second sanctuary in China.

“Our research tells us that Chinese people do not want bear bile farming. We want those people to be heartened and inspired by this announcement. We want owners of Chinese bile farms to view it positively too. We want them to pursue their own way out.

“As we enter into this agreement with a state-invested business we also welcome the opportunity to work with government to seek solutions. We are not saying this is a one-size-fits-all solution. What we are saying is – if we can reach this agreement and deliver on this massive undertaking then we should all be inspired by the possibilities. ”

The conversion of the farm into a sanctuary will take about 2 years but the bears will have their lives immediately transformed for the better by a substantially improved diet and access to enrichment for the first time in their lives.

To find out more about the Nanning bear rescue, supported by UK celebrities such as Virginia McKenna, Judi Dench, Peter Egan, Lesley Nicol, and cast members from Downton Abbey, please visit:


Thanks to Nicky Vyvyan-Robinson, PR and Education Manager of Animals Asia, for allowing us to use this information, and to our active member Heidi Stephenson of Totnes Meeting, for the introduction.

Look out for an interview with Jill Robinson later in the year.