In 1993, British-born Jill Robinson was gasping for air on the damp floor of a dungeon in Southern China. As an undercover investigator, Jill found what she’d come looking for and it was worse than she’d imagined. The darkness of the chamber was blotted with the silhouettes of moon bears, rows upon rows of moon bears, locked in tiny metal cages. This particular group had been imprisoned for 13 years and Jill was simply too sad to cry.
A Promise Fulfilled As Rescues Begin
For the past 18 years, Jill has made good on that promise and today, her organization called Animals Asia leads the crusade to shut down bear farms across the continent where it’s estimated that tens of thousands of bears are locked in tiny cages and ‘milked’ daily for the bile from their gall bladders, which is prized for its use in analgesics, wines and even shampoo. The specific details of the bile extraction are too tragic to describe here, but suffice it to say that this is indeed one of the deepest forms of cruelty on earth.
Because of Jill and her team at Animals Asia, there is a powerful campaign to close down the bear farms and hundreds have been rescued and are now discovering what it’s like to live as a bear inside of the organization’s sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. Once the bears are taken from the bear farms, they undergo complete veterinary examination, which typically includes surgery to repair their wounds.
Bears Surprised to Experience Freedom & Peace
“When they wake up here in their recovery cages it makes you glow with joy,” Jill said. “Slowly coming around from their anesthetic, you see them stretching their limbs to the point where the bars of their old prisons used to be. Then they begin to realize that something has changed and, in an anesthetic stupor, they continue stretching wobbly limbs further and further out — to the point where they can stretch properly for the first time in their lives.”
“Colin made us gulp back tears as we saw him standing up after the anesthetic had worn off,” she continues. “He realized that he had a bowl full of food at the end of his cage, but seemed to be concerned that the size of his new home would reduce again if he moved his whole body over to his food to eat. So he skillfully maneuvered himself so that his head and mouth could reach the food, while one of his back feet stretched out behind him and rested against the back of the cage.”
Sleep Well Sweet Bears
“They now have straw where a bed has never been,” Jill continues looking out on the park-like grounds of one sanctuary complete with climbing structures, a swimming pool and even bear-sized hammocks for naps. “Bedding-down had never been an option for these animals that are simply seen as a ‘resource’ for farmers who wouldn’t spend a cent on anything like basic care. Hamster is a bear Leanne (veterinarian) and I nicknamed. She had told me that he loved straw, but didn’t seem to realize what it was for. I joined her as he pulled it down from the roof of his recovery cage — strand by laborious strand, in what seemed like the whole afternoon, before he finally made a bed and then immediately curled up like a hamster and fell asleep.”
For most of us, for nearly all of us, saving thousands of bears from extraordinary suffering would surpass any natural expectations we have for ourselves as animal lovers. But Jill is a world class climber, and this is her Everest. She’s on the job seven days a week, although she refuses to call it work, and she firmly believes that she’ll see an end to bear farming in her lifetime.
You Can Help & Enjoy Special Rescue Photos
Animals Asia is a member of the Harmony Fund international rescue network and we’re raising money to:
- Pay for the bear surgeries to heal the internal wounds they’ve sustained on the farms.
- Provide mazes full of hidden treats and exploration cavities to keep the bears psychologically and emotionally stimulated in their new home.
- Purchase a new anesthetic machine to safely prepare bears for surgery.
To learn more about how you can help and to have a look at some amazing photos of the rescued bears please click here.
Photo credit: Animals Asia