We knew that it would be a difficult and above all protracted endeavor to establish a new BEAR SANCTUARY in Vietnam for former bile bears. Nevertheless, we were glad to take up this challenge. On one of our first visits to Vietnam, we met the sad female bear Nhi Nho (formerly Hai Chan).
"We immediately noticed that both forepaws were missing when we saw lethargic Nhi Nho for the first time. She was lying on her back in a tiny cage of just a few square metres and her sad eyes had a vacant look. It was clear: we had to get her out of that cage!"
-Carsten Hertwig, FOUR BAWS bear expert
But it would take some time until she could be saved. Like in other countries, we need to cooperate with authorities and the government before animals can be rescued. This was also the case in Vietnam, where the mills grind slowly. Many protracted negotiations were required until we got the final 'go ahead' to rescue this sad female bear. In the meantime, our BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh was completed far enough to welcome the first bile bears.
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Free at last
Our team travelled to Vietnam a few days before the rescue took place in order to prepare everything for the bear. As well as Nhi Nho, two other bears – Thai Van and Thai Giang – were to leave their cages on the grounds of a company and be transferred to our BEAR SANCTUARY.
Everything went according to plan. Our team reached the yard where the two bears were living on just a few square metres. They had apparently spent 15 long years under these conditions. We did not know whether and how often bile had been extracted. But we presumed that this was the reason for their being kept in captivity. Viennese vet Dr. Johanna Painer successfully administered anaesthesia and conducted a brief medical check. The animals were in a deplorable condition. Even before the rescue operation, it had been clear that they would spend several weeks at our quarantine facility before being released – for the first time in their lives – into a spacious outdoor enclosure. After the medical check, both animals were loaded into transport crates and we left their 'home' forever.
Then Nhi Nho's rescue got underway. We had waited so many months and with huge anticipation for this day. Now the time had come at last. The female bear, whose forepaws had been amputed, presumably for profit (in Vietnam, the paws of bears are cut off in order to produce so-called 'bear wine' or bear paw soup), lay despondently and quite calmly in her cage. We worked fast and concentratedly. A precise shot with the blowgun was sufficient and the anaesthetic was successfully administered. Then the big moment: we opened her cage. The cage that had been her home for over ten years.
The medical check had a shock in store: Nhi Nho had recently been 'milked' again (in other words, bile had been extracted with a needle). Fresh scarring on her gall bladder were proof of the torturous procedure that the bear had most likely been exposed to all her life. Due to her poor health condition, Nhi Nho, too, will spend some time at our quarantine facility where she will gradually be restored to health and become used to a life in a near-natural enclosure suited to her species. Imagine: Nhi Nho has never learnt to walk on her amputated stumps. She will need time and help. But we are confident that she will make it and successfully learn to walk.
After the medical check, we packed the sleeping bear into her transport crate, loaded it and waited for the effect of the anaesthetic to subside. Then all three bile bears started on a new adventure: in just a few hours their cages and the cruel past would be over once and for all.