It seems almost a miracle: Asian black bear Hai Chan, rescued from a Vietnamese bile bear farm in November by international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, can walk despite her missing front paws.
FOUR PAWS veterinarians and animal carers lovingly nursed the long-suffering and utterly weakened bear for six weeks at the newly built BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh in northeastern Vietnam. First in the quarantine ward and afterwards in the new sanctuary's bear house, Hai Chan has finally been able to venture into her large, near-natural outdoor enclosure.
“The moment the doors to the enclosure opened and Hai Chan stuck her nose out of the bear house was very touching.”
Jeroen van Kernebeek, FOURS PAWS Australia Country Director
“For the first time ever in her life, the bear walked on grass. We are very happy with how fast Hai Chan has adapted to her new environment and also with her mobility. She walks on the flats of her front legs and she has also started moving around on her stumps. We have always been confident that she would walk and cope with her disability, however it is almost a miracle that she built up the strength to do so that fast.”
Szilvia Kalogeropoulu, FOUR PAWS veterinarian
The entire FOUR PAWS team is impressed by Hai Chan’s rapid physical and mental recovery after the terrible suffering she had to endure in the past.
“From day one, we could already see a change in her behaviour, from lethargic and uninterested, lying on the floor of the bile cage, to curious and bright. She is very relaxed and happy with the bear keepers. She likes her comfort and enjoys making a nest to sleep in during the day. And she loves enrichment that has food in it, especially water spinach and apples,” said Kalogeropoulu.
In the bear house, Hai Chan has a special low hammock bed made just for her as she cannot climb into a high one like the others. She has extra straw on the floor for softer walking and her enrichment is placed lower. Hai Chan uses her stumps to hold food and to make her bed, and she is able to lead the very normal life of a happy bear. Soon, the team will try to socialise Hai Chan with Thai Van and Thai Giang, the two other bile bears that FOUR PAWS rescued and transferred to the sanctuary on the same day as Hai Chan.
Hai Chan’s pitiful past
Prior to her rescue, Hai Chan spent most of her life on a farm in a tiny metal cage in a filthy and poorly ventilated room. It is very likely that her paws were amputated and used to produce bear paw wine. Not only were her living conditions miserable, but also the lack of nutrition and the painful bile extraction procedure have taken a huge toll on the bear.
The bear bile business
Bear bile has been used as a remedy in traditional Chinese medicine for several thousand years and is still a sought-after product in many Asian countries. Although the sale and consumption of bear bile is banned in Vietnam, an estimated 1,300 bears are still suffering on around 400 farms, and the illegal trade of bear bile on Vietnam’s streets, in TCM shops, on bile farm farms and online is flourishing.
Due to the regular, brutal extraction of bile and the lack of veterinary care, the bears suffer from various diseases such as infections, abscesses, blood poisoning and liver cancer. The extremely poor keeping conditions on the bear farms also lead to serious behavioural disorders such as self-mutilation.
Joint mission against animal cruelty
In 2005, the government launched a campaign to phase out bear farming in Vietnam through attrition. All captive bears were registered and microchipped as part of an effort to ensure that no new bears entered farms. The bears, which remained the property of the state, were to be looked after by the farmers until their transfer to a local sanctuary, or natural death. Bear farmers were also required to sign a declaration to never again extract bile. In 2017, the Vietnamese government also issued a statement confirming its intent to end bear farming and begin rescuing bears.
In addition to supporting this policy and conducting its own rescue missions, FOUR PAWS has also launched an international campaign. Animal friends worldwide can sign a petition to encourage the Vietnamese government to do whatever it takes to put an end to bear farming: saddestbears.com/Vietnam.
Almost 600,000 signatures have already been collected.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.
Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, orangutans and elephants – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.
With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in 12 countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.au