Founded in 1998, Animals Asia promotes compassion and respect for all animals and works to bring about long-term change. They are dedicated to ending the barbaric trade in bear bile, which sees over 10,000 bears kept on bile farms in China and Vietnam.
I first came across Animals Asia and its inspirational founder, Jill Robinson, while researching moon bears. It wasn’t long before I found horrific images of bear bile farming. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine. The animals (mainly Asiatic black bears or moon bears) were originally hunted and killed, their gall bladders removed and the bile extracted.
As bear numbers plummeted, bear bile farms were established to meet escalating demand. The animals are kept in cages little bigger than the bears themselves. A permanent catheter is surgically implanted directly into the gall bladder, allowing the bile to be extracted while the animal is held in a crush cage. The procedure is every bit as brutal as it sounds and inflicts painful wounds, which often become infected, while the bears are starved to stimulate bile production. The bears are held in these conditions for years.
Animals Asia exists both to promote social and political change, through education and promoting the use of herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile, and to rescue bears from bear bile farms. The animals can never be released into the wild, but Animals Asia has two bear sanctuaries, one in China and one in Vietnam, where rescued animals are rehabilitated and given comfortable dens and semi-natural enclosures in the company of other bears.
Thanks to the tireless work of Animals Asia and its supporters, attitudes are changing. In 2017, after much public campaigning, the Vietnamese government announced a complete ban on bear bile farming by 2023. In the meantime, the charity’s bear sanctuary provides a crucial refuge for rescued bears to live out the remainder of their lives in as natural an environment as possible.
I’ve supported the work of Animals Asia for a long time, so when I visited Vietnam on a family holiday I jumped at the chance to visit their bear sanctuary near Hanoi. Hang, our guide, showed as around the 11 hectare site, which provides almost 30,000 sq m of outdoor enclosure space designed to stimulate the bears’ natural behaviour.
As well as meeting some of the bears, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the sanctuary’s facilities, which include a veterinary hospital, laboratory and kitchen filled with an array of delicious fruits and vegetables. I was delighted to hear that, despite the trauma of their former confinement, most of the bears brought to the sanctuary make a good recovery. I saw no evidence of stereotypical or stress behaviour and it’s clear the bears are comfortable and well cared for.
Sometimes it feels like there is only ever bad news when it comes to animal welfare and conservation, so it was a real pleasure to visit such a positive and successful project. Of course, there is still plenty of work to do, so I couldn’t leave without donating a moon bear sculpture to be auctioned at a fundraising auction.
Visit Animals Asia to learn more about the incredible work they do, their bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and how you can support them.