Every bear, whether they live incarcerated on a bile farm or have found freedom at one of Animals Asia's sanctuaries, is special in his or her own way. Bears who are victims of the bile industry may spend their entire lives in tiny cages being painfully farmed for their bile. At our sanctuaries in China and Vietnam we have the privilege of witnessing rescued bears expressing their personalities and taking pleasure in their new surroundings, finally free after years of confinement.
Oliver, who spent 30 years in a cage, loves to putter around his enclosure and soak in his rock pool. Some bears will rush out of their den in the morning to greet the day with boundless energy, while others may stroll out slowly -- taking on the morning with a relaxed attitude.
One bear in particular, Jasper, has proven himself as a great go-between. He has become our ambassador of peace at the China sanctuary, not only quelling spats between young bears, but teaching humans that he and his fellows are sentient beings. Because of what Jasper has taught those of us who know him, I am now sharing his story in the children's book Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (Sleeping Bear Press), which I co-wrote with acclaimed author and animal behavior expert Marc Bekoff.
When Jasper arrived at Animals Asia's China sanctuary, in Chengdu, he was dramatically underweight and missing a great deal of fur from years of rubbing against his cage. His teeth were badly worn down from bar biting and he had a metal catheter implanted in his abdomen (for the purpose of extracting bile). In order to free him, we had to cut the 6-foot-tall bear from the tiny cage that held him. This was a "crush cage," fitted with a metal grill so that Jasper's body had been flattened to the bottom of it. Because he had been held captive like this for so long, his muscles had wasted away and gone slack.
Soon Jasper was able to go outside onto the grass, and take in the sun in the safety of the expansive sanctuary. After the trauma that he had suffered on the bile farm, it took some time for him to feel relaxed in his new spacious surroundings and trust those who were caring for him. To him, humans meant pain and cruelty. Animals Asia's sanctuary staff who knew him weren't convinced that he would ever regain his spirit.
The Animals Asia team worked extensively with Jasper to help him heal. They hid carrots and tomatoes in logs, and filled the centers of toys with fruit. This helped Jasper to learn to dig and move and stretch, building the muscles that had been neglected for so long. In time Jasper began to raise a curious eyebrow when a caregiver came near. Soon he would even respond to humans when beckoned by name.
Following many months of rehabilitation, tasty food, and affection from the Animals Asia staff, the real Jasper emerged. As I recount in the book Jasper's Story, there came a day when Jasper began to swat at straw. This small action was indicative of something much greater. Jasper had begun to do something he had never had the opportunity to do before -- to play! As Jasper's personality continued to emerge, he revealed himself to be our gentle peacemaker, separating other bears who were acting antagonistically towards each other.
Jasper also has quite a mischievous sense of humor and loves an audience, which he gets from sanctuary staff and visitors. A true testament to the bears' capacity for forgiveness, Jasper does not fear humans, but is as comfortable in the company of people as he is with other bears -- even coming when he is called and licking peanut butter from his caregivers' fingers. His delightful antics and distinctive golden eyebrows win over everyone he meets. He has come a long way from distrusting all humans. Though his caregivers taught Jasper how to forage, Jasper taught them about forgiveness.
Jasper is just one of thousands of bears who have been subjected to the barbaric cruelties of bear bile farming. More than 10,000 bears -- mainly moon bears, but also sun bears and brown bears -- are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 in Vietnam. Jasper's miraculous recovery, unconquerable spirit, and bold personality make him the perfect ambassador for all incarcerated moon bears, proving to the world their sentience and suffering. As our resident peacemaker (not to mention a great comedian), Jasper is the perfect being to let the world know about the egregious cruelty of bile farming, and the hope for healing.
To learn more about how you can help put an end to the bear bile farming industry, please visit AnimalsAsia.org.
Follow Jill Robinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/moonbearjill