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How one moon bear saved the lives of 600 others

The nonprofit Animals Asia recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary, and the story of how this organization came about is as uplifting as it is affecting.

Back in 1993, Jill Robinson, having heard of the bear bile industry but unsure of what it entailed, decided to visit a bile farm in China with a group of tourists. What she witnessed shook her to the very core.

It changed her life and the lives of hundreds of bears forever.

The cruelty and abuse that she observed as she walked through dark rooms filled with caged bears was overwhelming. So distressed by what she was seeing, Jill accidentally backed up into one of the cages.

bear in cage Robinson first visited a bile farm in China in 1993. (Photo: Animals Asia)

She felt something touching her shoulder, and when she turned around, she saw a moon bear gently pushing its paw through the bars of the cage. The female bear was desperately reaching out to Robinson through the rusty bars, so she held the bear's paws, looking into the animal’s eyes.

What Robinson saw in the bear’s eyes was complete devastation and despair, and she knew right then and there that her life would never be the same.

“Many seconds passed in that moment, as time really did stand still, and the bear I later called Hong ["bear" in Cantonese] sent the most profound message I have ever heard. As I walked out of the basement, I had a feeling I would never see her again, and I never did,” remembers Robinson.

bear in cage with bars To date, Animals Asia has rescued 611 bears, mainly from bile farms in Vietnam and China. (Photo: Animals Asia)

“What I do know is that I listened to her message and, because of one bear, over 600 lives have been saved in her name."

In 1998, Jill founded Animals Asia, an animal welfare nonprofit dedicated to ending bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals throughout Asia. Two years later, the organization negotiated a deal with the Chinese government to release five hundred bears from bile farms with the worst-known conditions.

That same year, Animals Asia established their first bear rescue center in China, and today it remains the only bear sanctuary in the entire country. In 2007 the nonprofit built their second rescue center in Vietnam.

bear plays in swing China has more than ten thousand bears still in bile farms, but public awareness campaigns by Animals Asia are igniting change. (Photo: Animals Asia)

Thousands of people visit the organization’s sanctuaries in Vietnam and China each year. Visitors take part in educational tours to learn about the issues of bear bile farming, and they get to experience the heartwarming transformations of rescued moon bears living their new lives.

To date, Animals Asia has rescued 611 bears, mainly from bile farms in Vietnam and China. More than 170 bears currently live at the organization’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Center, the largest and oldest sanctuary for bears in the country.

bear relaxes in hammock To date, Animals Asia has rescued 611 bears, mainly from bile farms in Vietnam and China. (Photo: Animals Asia)

Last year Animals Asia was able to secure a historic agreement with the Vietnamese government to end bear bile farming in the country. According to the legally binding contract, the Vietnamese government has pledged to close all bile farms in the country by 2022 and send the 800 remaining bears to sanctuaries.

Unfortunately, more than ten thousand bears still remain on bile farms in China, but public awareness campaigns by Animals Asia are igniting much-needed change.

When Animals Asia was first established in 1998, very few people were even aware of the horrific practice of bear bile farming. The brutal industry keeps bears in tiny cages for their entire lives so that their bile can be extracted and used in traditional medicine. These animals live in complete agony and unimaginable pain.

Bear smiles while wearing ears All of the bears have made incredible progress since being rescued. (Photo: Animals Asia)

“Every bear’s body tells a story of what they suffered and of the terrible emotional and physical trauma caused by bear bile farming,” says Jill. “But as individuals, they give us hope, too."

"Their ability to recover, to live happy lives, and ultimately to forgive proves that even after the most extreme cruelty, rehabilitation is possible. And if we can repair these broken bears after all they’ve been through, we can realize our end goal.”

Robinson looks out at bear sanctuary When Robinson (pictured) first established Animals Asia in 1998, very few people were aware of the horrific practice of bear bile farming. (Photo: Animals Asia)

Animal Asia’s sanctuaries provide specialized veterinary care for the many bears who were left with permanent disabilities such as blindness or missing limbs. With the organization’s help, the bears are able to overcome their handicaps so they may play and frolic to their heart’s content.

All of these bears have made such incredible progress since being rescued from their former lives of pain and darkness. Here they are finally safe, free to spend the rest of their lives in new homes full of fresh air and sunshine.

- story by Dobi Finley

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Animals Asia’s mission is to end the farming of bears for bile in Vietnam and China, provide sanctuary for bears, end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, and ensure humane treatment of dogs and cats. The organization runs several bear rescue centers, promotes compassion and respect for all animals, and works to bring about long-term change for wild and captive animals throughout Asia.

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