In 2000 we began our support for China Bear Rescue, one of the projects run by the Animals Asia Foundation.  The aim of the project is to see 500 of the Asiatic black bear, also known as the moon bear due to the distinctive pale crescents of fur on the chest, released from existing bear farms in China where they are "milked" for their bile, by the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008. The bears live their lives in the most appalling conditions, imprisoned in tiny cages, unable to move, turn or lie down.  They either have rusting metal catheters inserted permanently into their stomachs or are victims of a so-called "humane" free drip method where a hole is carved into the stomach and a latex tube inserted, often held in place with a metal corset which rubs the skin raw.

After much lobbying and discussion with the Chinese government, the charity was given 25 acres of bamboo forest in Chengdu, Sichuan Province where the Moon Bear Rescue Centre now exists today.  So far 219 bears have been released into the charity's care, 175 remain alive.  Some of the worst farms have been closed down, no new licenses are being issued. 

Thanks to our fund raising efforts, to the support of many bear artists (see our charity auction page) and to all the bear collectors who participated in the auctions, in January 2005 we were able to sponsor our own bear, called Abracadabra.  She arrived as part of a group from a bear farm which had been closed down and was in a very poorly condition for a while.  I have photos of her when she had just arrived and a report but I made the decision not to publish the photos or write about her until I had heard more as it was very upsetting. 

Just before Christmas 2005, I received the following photo of Jill Robinson, founder of the charity, with Abracadabra, having responded to her surgeries and well on the way to a healthier life.


Travelling to China and visiting the rescue centre was one of my ambitions and earlier this month, thanks to a dear friend in the travel business, I was able to make the journey.  It was a wonderful holiday during which I visited The Great Wall at Mutianya, Beijing, Xian and the amazing display of terracotta warriors, Yangshou and Guilin for wonderful scenery, Chengdu for the moon bears and also pandas and finally Shanghai for the best Margarita cocktails and shopping in China. 


On the morning of the planned visit to the moon bears, I was up early and down in the foyer of the hotel, worried that I might miss the driver sent to collect me.  Everything had been planned by email with Jill quite some time ago and I was trusting to luck that nothing would go wrong.  I shouldn't have worried - the driver had strict instructions not to leave the hotel until he had found me and off we went, avoiding bicycles and pedestrians alike, making our slow way through the heavy traffic.  Of all the places that I went to, the city of Chengdu had the worst air pollution - there was a permanent yellow smog, a heavy chemical smell and my nose and throat burned the whole time I was outside in the city itself. 

It took nearly an hour to get through the traffic and once outside the city we made better time.  Eventually we turned off the main road and took a side road, more like a dirt track really, which took us through a small village and in between bamboo groves until we reached a security point where I donned my visitors badge and then we had arrived. 

Jill Robinson was there to greet me with a big hug and many apologies because we weren't going to be able to see the bears burst from their dens into the rehabilitation area which was the reason for the early start to the tour. Unfortunately, thanks to Asia (see photos below) this wasn't to be. (Pass the mouse cursor over Asia's photo to see a second photo).


Asia, described by Jill as the scruffiest, scabbiest bear in the centre and not the first bear she wanted me to see, had installed herself in one of the climbing frames the previous day and was refusing to come down.  Nothing, apparently, would tempt her, not even her favourite foods,  evidence of which was apparent in the pieces of fruit scattered on the ground. 

Poor Asia is being treated for eczema.  Animals, just like humans, will show similar symptoms of stress and one thought is that Asia's skin problems were brought on by her treatment on the bear farm.

While Asia was in her vantage point, the other bears couldn't come out into the enclosure.



The tour of the centre started at the Education Room where everything you would ever need to know about the barbaric practices carried out on these animals is starkly laid out.  There is also a life size photo of the centre's beloved Andrew, one of the first bears to arrive at the centre, who passed away in February 2006 from liver cancer. 


(By passing your mouse cursor over the above photos, you will see more).

There were more happy moments than sad - it was fantastic to tour the perimeter of the enrichment areas and watch bears socialising, play wrestling, swimming, snoozing and generally enjoying life.  Jill explained that the enrichment areas are changed every day so when the bears come out of their dens, they never know what will be waiting for them.  One day there might be a swimming pool and the next day the water will have been drained and the pit filled with sand or straw.  The centre's workers, employees and volunteers alike, work extremely hard to ensure that the bears are stimulated, hiding their food inside toys, logs and sticks of bamboo.






Jill is showing me some of the toys which have been donated for the bears to play with.  The bears need plenty of them as they can be fairly destructive - you can see how chewed up the one in Jill's left hand is.  The toys are those made for the largest dog breeds and they are put about in the dens and enclosures with food hidden inside so the bears have to make an effort to look for them.






I love this photo.  The bear is Jasper, he has been at the centre since the first group arrived.  Jill is feeding him his favourite treat of peanut butter and I was able to feed him pieces of apple which he took from me in the gentlest way with his tongue.  I know that the bars look awful but they are necessary for no matter how cuddly these bears appear to be, they have very formidable claws and can move very fast so there are safety protocols in place of which we were constantly being reminded.



This is little Franzi.  She spent 25 years in a tiny cage on a bear farm and as a result her growth was severely stunted and she suffered brain damage.  She spends her time with her sweetheart, Rupert, also brain damaged as a result of an infection which went to his brain. 

In this photo Franzi is "presenting" herself at the bars for a reward.  She has been trained to do this so that she can be examined by the vet or given medication.  In actual fact, Jill was trying to show us some of the work being done with Rupert but he wasn't interested and as soon as Franzi saw the bag of pineapple, she was there instead.




Franzi's tiny cage.


Rusting cages in which bears arrived - left to rot as a grim reminder of what has been left behind and of the 7000 bears still on bear farms.


(Please move your mouse cursor over the above photo to see another).

Here is our dear little Abracadabra as she is today.  Not the greatest of photos but when I was taken to see her earlier in her den, she was not in the slightest bit interested in anything other than being let out into the enclosure, which she must have sensed was imminent so she was very active and wouldn't keep still for a photo. As we toured the perimeter of the enclosure, she suddenly popped out from a log and some branches right in front of us.  I knew it was her as she has a very distinctive dark nose which turns up at the end, from her orange ear tag and also I had spotted earlier a small bald spot on her bottom.  She is a very small bear, with a lovely rounded shape.  Jill told me that it's hard to tell how old the bears are but Abracadabra is thought to be young to middle aged.





There are 2 Tibetan bears living in the centre - they were living in a monastery and the monks were no longer able to take care of them so the centre took them.  They are simply beautiful to look at with shaggy coats in all shades of golds and browns - rather like those sea shell chocolates you can buy.  They can't be integrated with the moon bears so they have an enclosure of their own - absolute luxury.








In December 2006 the AAF team saw a TV programme about a farmer and his family who had adopted a tiny orphaned cub and were training him rather like a dog. It seems that they were intending to keep him as a tourist attraction.  The worry was that once the cub grew, they would no longer be able to take care of him and he would end up on a farm so the team contacted the farmer and invited him and his family to visit the rescue centre to see just what their little cub would grow into and how much care and work would be involved in keeping him healthy. The farmer was shocked to see how big the bears become and Little Naji (arabic for safe) was gifted to the centre.







Those bears that do not survive are cremated and their remains, together with their favourite toys, flowers and poems, are buried in the centre's graveyard. 

Jill says that the villagers, who have a right of way through parts of the centre, often leave flowers on the graves.  She says that no-one should say that the Chinese are uncaring as it's obvious that many do.

The graveyard is a very peaceful place.









One thing that is very clear is that the Moon Bear Rescue Centre depends entirely on the support of individuals and corporate sponsors and without our ongoing help they will be unable to continue with their work.

Abracadabra will be holding the occasional on-line auction this year as we have been promised special bears from one or two bear artists.  We will, as in previous years, be holding our bumper end of year auction with all the bears that kind bear collectors have sent us.  If you have a bear in your collection that you think could help his real life cousins, please email me or telephone on +44 (0)1799 527222.

There are many ways that you, as an individual can do to help the moon bears:

Visit www.animalsasia.org and check out their "help" section.  You can join the "Befriend a Bear" scheme, buy a gift for a bear for as little as GBP 2.50 ($5), make a straight forward donation, buy something for yourself from the Gift Shop on-line.






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