An Asian black bear with two amputated front paws has finally learned how to walk again.
The bear, named Hai Chan, was rescued in November after being held captive for ten years as a bile bear. Stomach bile is illegally harvested from living bears in parts of Southeast Asia, where it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Yet the practice causes suffering to the animals, and governments have taken steps to end the tradition.
Hai Chan was rescued by FOUR PAWS, an international animal welfare organization, and was brought to safety at Ninh Binh, a new bear sanctuary in northeast Vietnam. Two other rescued Asian bears have also been taken there over the past few months.
Veterinarians and animal caretakers nursed the injured bear back to health over a period of six weeks, and Hai Chan is now able to enjoy her outdoor enclosure, experiencing a part of nature for what may be the first time.
“The moment the doors to the enclosure opened and Hai Chan stuck her nose out of the bear house, our entire team was overcome with emotion,” said Szilvia Kalogeropoulu, a veterinarian at FOUR PAWS, in a press release. “This was the first time Hai Chan ever walked on grass. Despite missing her front two paws, she is able to walk on the flats of her front legs and on her stumps…It’s a miracle she built up the strength to do that so fast.”
When Hai Chan was rescued, the bear was living in a tiny metal cage in a dirty, poorly ventilated room on a farm. She was suffering from enlarged adrenal glands and stress; malnutrition and the bile extraction process had taken a toll on her health.
Her paws had already been amputated, likely to produce bear paw wine, when rescuers found her. Jars full of wine with bear paws still inside them make for expensive gifts in Asia.
And it’s not just bear paws that are used in this kind of wine-making process. Jars of wine with pangolins, cobras, lizards, and other wildlife can also be found, despite the government’s crackdown on wildlife trafficking. Bear paws are also sold as fancy food plates in high-end Asian restaurants and used to make soup dishes.
Selling and consuming bear bile is banned in Vietnam. However, FOUR PAWS says an illegal bear bile trade is flourishing, and hundreds of bears are still suffering on farms like the one where Hai Chan was found.
Over the past decade, FOUR PAWS has worked with the Vietnamese government to try to phase out bear farming by registering the current captive bears, making farmers sign a promise to never again extract bear bile, and ensuring no new bears are brought to the bile farms. The organization has also launched an international campaign to put pressure on the government to end bear farming.