The thought of a magnificent Moon Bear caged and tortured for its bile is simply heart-breaking. To witness suffering for the demands of outdated traditional Chinese medicine is incomprehensible, especially as synthetic alternatives are available.
Animals Asia was founded in 1998 by Jill Robinson MBE and their contribution towards ending this horrendous and exploitative industry has been nothing short of incredible. To date, Jill and her dedicated team of likeminded individuals have rescued over 400 bears, caring for them in two wonderful sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. Their efforts are constant, dedicated and unrelenting as they work towards fulfilling the charity mantra, 'until the cruelty ends'
Faced with ever evolving and highly funded marketing tactics from bear bile farmers to make the industry appear humane and wealth affirming, change has been difficult. Add that to a lack of government resolve in tackling the problem in the face of a country-wide burden of poverty, the plight of Animals Asia has often been complex and political. But neither obstacles have served as a deterrent as a swell of support grows. And with constant skilled negotiation and guidance from Animals Asia, opposition is now reaching 90% of the population.
But what of the other 10%? What of this often wealthy, painfully traditionalist and manipulative group? What of the bile farmers who continue to trade?
Well, a turning point has been reached. Something remarkable, heart-warming and unprecedented has occurred.
From May 5th, Animals Asia will convert a bear bile farm in Nanning, China, into a sanctuary following a request by the farm to rescue and care for its 130 bears. Mr Yan Shaohong, General Manager of the bear farm, has described the decision as one fuelled by the desire for the company to get out of the increasingly unpopular and ultimately unprofitable industry. He was also determined that the bears would not be sold onto other farms and continue to suffer cruelty.
One cannot understate the magnitude of this decision by Mr Yan. A man who once profited from a state-invested business that created so much suffering has turned his back on a dark chapter and cast light on this cruel trade. He is the first to say, 'no more'; he is the first to destabilise and undermined the other 10%.
The message sent to the rest of China and Vietnam is as powerful as it is potent. It's a realisation and admission that bear bile farming is almost universally reviled. It's an understanding that profitability is waning. But most significantly, it's the forging of a new pathway for bear bile farmers; it's an acceptable way out. And despite the farmers ill-founded protestations and misguided conflicts, Animals Asia will always be there for them.
The reaction to this news by other bile farms will be intriguing. Without doubt, hearts and minds will be shaken as the industry begins to fragment. For some, the Nanning sanctuary will represent the beginning of the end and given that these 'businesses' rely on demand and stability the likelihood is more will follow the actions of Mr Yan.
And the Government? No political body can ignore what has happened. It demonstrated communication and negotiation on a truly extraordinary level and reaching such an agreement can only inspire more exciting possibilities for the future.
There is a cost, however. The undertaking means an investment of $5m by Animals Asia and they will need charitable support more than ever before. Vets, staff, equipment and structures are needed for the bears rehabilitation. But the impact will be staggering. From caged and tortured beasts in pain to free, active and happy bears in play. In fact I urge you to visit the Animals Asia website to see how the bears transform from bruised, battered and diseased to healthy and glorious. Of course, some are simply too ill to survive. But others...well, they'll bring tears to your eyes. Seriously.
I can honestly see a day in my lifetime when the cruelty really will end and the Nanning rescue is a bounding and significant leap towards that day. There's a great deal of work ahead, but 130 bears are free; free from pain and free from suffering. And thanks to Animals Asia, these magnificent sentient beasts have a future.
Today is a good day.
For more information about the Nanning rescue, and to donate, visit http://www.animalsasia.org