Cara Wilcox, a friend of Joan Court, Life Member of QCA, has been volunteering for three months at the Animals Asia bear rescue centre in Sichuan Province, China, returning at the end of September.

She writes:

‘The majority of the bears at the centre have been rescued from bear bile farms. In Asia, bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine, despite the availability of many herbal or synthetic alternatives. In order to extract the bile from the bears’ gall bladder they are kept in small cages, often ‘crush cages’ where the bear cannot move at all. Bile is extracted using various painful, invasive techniques, all of which cause massive infection in the bears. The only allowed method involves a surgically created fistula through which the bile is frequently extracted. The bears often have restricted access to water and food.

Animals Asia also runs a sanctuary in Vietnam.

Most of the bears are Asiatic Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus), or moon bears, and there are also brown bears here too

When the bears arrive at the sanctuary, they undergo extensive veterinary treatment to address the numerous health consequences from their time on the bile farms. After behavioural assessment they are slowly integrated into naturalistic environments with groups of other bears, where they are given different food and enrichment every day, specifically selected in order to meet their complex behavioural and veterinary needs. Management also considers  maintaining optimum weights and activity throughout the year. Bears who prefer to live alone are accommodated in dens and enclosures by themselves.

Whilst at Animals Asia, I have been involved with helping the bear team staff to enrich the bear enclosures, which is done every morning. Whilst the bears are in their dens, staff go into the enclosures and hide food; in logs, on climbing frames, in toys with holes in, even in their pools! The enrichment and food they are given varies every day and the amount depends on the season, to match the natural seasonal cycles of the bears.


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I have also been involved in behavioural research on the bears; taking observations and analysing the results. One study looked into methods of reducing aggression between certain individuals; another was listening to vocalisations in relation to their behaviour to find out why it may be emitted.

Other activities include making up medical shakes for the bears in the mornings, walking local dogs, and updating behavioural records for the bears.

Over 150 dedicated primarily local staff work at the centre in various departments, including education, PR, security, maintenance and there are vets, bear workers, managers and more!

Every person here has a vital role to play in ending bear bile farming.’

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~ Thanks, Cara, for your compassionate volunteering work, both in China and earlier on in Nepal.

Animals Asia is an excellent and effective organisation we wholeheartedly recommend.

They are 15 years old this year, but Jill Robinson, the founder, had already been working to free bears for 5 years.

Good news is that 260 drugstores of 11 chains in China have now joined the Animals Asia campaign to stop sales of bear bile.

Please see: www.animalsasia.org