Hearting breaking pictures, arent they?
NO, these are not fabricated
scenes from the movies nor are these bears housed in such conditions on a
temporary basis. These are REAL pictures taken from one of the many
bear farms in
While the extracted bile does have some medicinal effects, these are completely
replaceable by herbs and modern medicine. Moon Bears have been killed for their gall bladders for thousands
of years, but it is only in the past 20 years that countries in
Admittedly, I first learnt about the above on Animal Planet when they featured an episode on the moon bears and the good work done by Animal Asia Foundation to save them. I was incensed by the treatment meted by those bear farmers and determined to help.
I caught up with Jill Robinson, CEO and founder of Animals Asia Foundation who have kindly provided us with an email interview on her work to save the bears (other animals too) and how the public can do to help.
MAS: Hi Jill, you have been in China a long time. Perhaps you would like to provide our readers with a bit of background on yourself and how did you end up in China?
Jill: I was born in Nottingham, UK, but moved around England quite a bit while growing up. I always had a passion for animals and felt a close bond with many animals throughout my early years. I was working on the administration side at the BBC and Thames TV and was planning to move into research when my husband (now-ex) was transferred to HK in 1985. So I thought I could probably pursue a media career in Hong Kong. But as it turns out, I became involved with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). I worked with them as their Asia consultant for a number of years before founding Animals Asia in 1998.
MAS: Founding and running an animal charitable organization takes tremendous passion and energy, what kept you going?
Jill: Although our work is sometimes “two steps forward, one step back”, we are making steady progress. And the changes we are seeing are long-term and sustainable. It is incredibly inspiring to see, for instance, animal welfare groups springing up around China as a result of our educational outreach work.
It is also heartening to think of the thousands of supporters Animals Asia has around the world – ordinary people giving their time, money and skills to help us help suffering animals.
Together, we have now truly changed the lives to more than 215 rescued bears in China and will soon start to rescue 200 in Vietnam.
So it is the animals we have been able to help that keep me feeling inspired to do more. As Eddie snoozes by my chair without a care in the world – a dog plucked seconds before being killed for food in a live animal market in China – my heart aches for the millions of miserable dogs and cats he left behind.
One way to help dogs such as Eddie has undoubtedly been to create a simple respect for those companion animals that share our lives. Since 1991, our successful Dr Dog animal-therapy programme has seen hundreds of dedicated volunteers and their dogs visiting hospitals, disabled centres, elderly homes, orphanages and schools spreading warmth and love to people in need across Asia. Dr Dog operates in Hong Kong, Japan, India, the Philippines, Taiwan, Mainland China and now Malaysia.
Finally, it is those still desperately in need of our help – that keep me going.
MAS: What would make your job easier?
Jill: The introduction of comprehensive animal welfare legislation throughout China and the other countries in which we work would be a big help.
Better access to the people in power would also help tremendously. For instance, I would love to meet with Vice President Wu Yi. I believe her to be someone of great honesty and integrity and I feel that if I had the opportunity to talk with her woman-to-woman that she would understand how improving animal welfare could have great benefits for both the people and animals of China.
MAS: What are some of Animal Asia’s upcoming programs and what can we expect to see from Animal Asia in the short term future? Any plans for expansion to beyond current list of countries that Animal Asia have presence in?
Jill: We have just launched our Dr Dog animal-therapy programme in Malaysia, making it the seventh country in Asia to embrace the healing power of our companion animals in society. We are also working hard to prepare another symposium in November where representatives from over 40 groups across the country will join us in Guangzhou to address the problems facing dogs and cats in China.
In Hanoi, we are currently building a new rescue centre for 200 caged bears, which symbolises and celebrates the end of bear farming in Vietnam. We hope that this fine example of a state protecting its endangered species of bears will further encourage China to end bear farming too.
MAS: What is Animal Asia’s most pressing need and what can the general public do to help address this need?
Jill: It’s two-fold. We need people to spread the word about the Moon Bear Rescue, Friends….or Food?, and our other programmes and, on a more practical level, we need funds to continue and expand these programmes. Those who want to help can go to our website for ideas on what they can do, for instance, they could join a support group in their area, or start one up.
MAS: What are some of the major roadblocks hindering Animal Asia from achieving its objectives?
Jill: I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks is greed. The bear bile industry is incredibly lucrative for the farmers, as are the cat-and-dog meat and fur industries. Sadly, the cruelty of both industries is denied or hidden and our challenge is to expose the truth behind trades that have no place in a compassionate and civilised society. Our other roadblock comes from the sad fact that historically, many people are not brought up to empathise with animals, or even to recognise that they have feelings, both emotional and physical. This is changing today but it needs more voices across the country to join us as wild, domestic and endangered species are still suffering in their millions.
And of course in developing countries such as China there are many, many issues and problems that need to be addressed and the authorities are gradually working through these. Animal welfare is just one issue – it is simply not a priority. For instance, the introduction of comprehensive desexing and vaccination programmes for stray dogs would go a long way to eliminating the surge of rabies throughout the country as has already been shown through similar programmes in India. Unfortunately, many cities still resort to knee-jerk culls whenever there is a minor outbreak of rabies. This will never fix the problem.
Our greatest difficulty from the start in the bear farming campaign has always been the deceit in the industry. In China, we are very proud to be working with our Government partners; the CWCA in Beijing and the Sichuan Forestry Department, and could not continue this rescue without them. However, we are desperately frustrated too. We hear farmers saying that their farms are operating under high standards and using only humane practices and we have never, ever seen a farm or surgical procedure where this could be true. The bears are at death's door when they arrive at our sanctuary and their wounds and trauma speak for themselves.
Also, almost every gall bladder we removed contains pus-infected bile. When the bears die at our sanctuary, the majority of cases are related to liver tumours, leading to a yet unproven hypothesis of a tumour factor connected with this infected bile and the liver cancer found in the bears. What it does to the end consumer remains unknown. This is also our biggest frustration that the decision-makers in China do not see the truth for what it is.
MAS: Tell us about the most unforgettable or touching experience you came across while running Animal Asia.
Jill: Andrew was the first of more than 60 rake-thin Moon Bears to arrive at the China sanctuary in October 2000. As soon as I set eyes on this beautiful three-legged bear, I knew he was special. Like the other bears, poor Andrew had spent years wracked with pain in a coffin-sized cage. The other bears either cowered in terror or thrashed wildly about their cages, while Andrew stayed calm. It was pandemonium, but in the middle of this horror was one bear lying on his back picking at the bits of metal holding his rusty cage together. It was as if he knew he was about to start a new life. He knew he was safe. Tragically, Andrew died at the start of last year from liver cancer – the result of his incarceration on the farm. But Andrew’s spirit will always live on and I am determined that this gentle, noble bear will not have died in vain.
MAS: In a BBC interview, you mentioned Animal Asia is founded when you visited and saw first hand the brutal treatment of bears in a bear farm. Also, you mentioned a female bear squeezed your hand rhythmically from her cage. Was that moment that triggered the initiative in this project?
Jill: Yes. How could I just walk away from this beautiful bear I named “Hong” and not promise to help her and all the other bears trapped in hellish conditions just like her. I will never forget that first experience of a bear bile farm. It was a torture chamber, a hell hole for animals. They literally couldn’t move, they couldn’t stand up, they couldn’t turn around. Today, despite the farmers’ claims of humane treatment, it is no different for over 7,000 still held on farms. Hong’s memory lives on through the bears we have saved and we will continue this rescue until that promise of ending bear farming comes true.
MAS: I am sure you have been harassed or intimidated by bear farmers in the course of your work. How do you deal with them?
Jill: We generally don’t liaise directly with the farmers, but through the authorities, although there have been one or two unpleasant experiences as a result of our differences of opinion surrounding bear farming. At one conference, I was accused of using old pictures and working with old and ignorant doctors, where in reality our pictures were recent and we were proud to have the support of respected and eminent practitioners in the traditional Chinese medicine arena. The farmers who want to hold on to their farms will actually say anything to discredit us – but the truth is, at last, discrediting them. Interestingly, we have had two former farmers come to the rescue centre to visit their previously farmed bears. They broke down in tears and thanked us for looking after their animals. Other farmers who have had their farms closed and bears confiscated into our care have said that the compensation has allowed them to start a different trade. Clearly though, the richer farmers have their own agenda and over the years at conferences and meetings, we continue to clash over certain issues. But really the only way to deal with this is to remain focused and professional, to present the facts as we know them to be true and not to be sidetracked by those farmers that wish to misinterpret the industry.
MAS: Besides bears, what other animals are on your “Priority to Save” list?
Jill: We are working to restore respect for all animals in Asia, but given that we have limited resources, we are focusing on cats and dogs (as well as bears). We are campaigning to end dog and cat eating through our programme, “Friends….or Food?” and to end the trade in their fur through “Friends….or Fur?”. Through these two brutal trades, cats and dogs, which have been our loyal and loving companions for thousands of years, suffer unimaginable torture. Pet ownership is growing by the day in China, so we think that by focusing on cats and dogs, people will be able to relate more to our message. If we can change attitudes to dogs and cats, ultimately attitudes to all animals will change.
MAS: Thank you
Remember, regardless of where you are. You can help, be it financially, morally or physically.