Rescue Too Late for ‘Raspberry the Bear’

Courtesy of Cairnsmedia.com, a staunch supporter of animal welfare. Buyers of bile beware.

VIETNAM — When bears emerge from Asia’s remaining “bile farms”, veterinarians get really busy. Sometimes the medical work amounts to “mission impossible”. Vets euthanized one of 19 moon bears recently taken by the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) from an illegal bile farm where the animals had lived in cramped cargo-container cages. The bear’s abdomen was “rotting away”. AAF veterinary director Dr Heather Bacon described the animal’s abdomen as so necrotic and ravaged with disease that his organs looked unrecognisable. She saw sure evidence that the adult-male bear, named Raspberry, had been tapped for bile despite that being illegal in Vietnam. “Bile extraction caused irreparable damage to his organs, and he must have been in extreme pain,” Bacon said. “He deliberately was kept alive through inappropriate use of antibiotics so the farmer could squeeze more bile from the dying bear.” She called the condition of Raspberry’s internal organs shocking, the worst she’s seen. “At his health-check, we noted a small (3mm) abdomen wound oozing pus. Ultrasound showed a very inflamed gall bladder and a dense mass in his abdomen. “Suspecting a tumour or abscess, we took him straight to surgery and discovered that all his internal organs were covered with a thick, fibrous layer of scar tissue, a reaction to the peritonitis inside his abdomen caused by infection and bile leaking from his gall bladder and liver. This damage was irreparable, and so we put him to sleep. “On post-mortem, we discovered a grapefruit-sized abscess of solidified pus next to his liver. His gall bladder was thickened, scarred and full of liquid pus oozing into his abdomen. His liver was abscessated and clogged with bile salts. None of his abdominal organs retained their normal appearance. All were inflamed and adhesed from chronic infection. “Raspberry also had nodular carbon deposits in his lungs, from inhaling polluted air, and inflamed heart valves – possibly infected secondarily to the infection in his abdomen. “On the outside, he was a lovely big bear weighing 162kg and still eating, but he would have been dead of agonizing septicaemia within a couple of weeks. This was an amazing example of the stoicism of these bears, and the hidden pathology and pain that hundreds of bears on bile farms must endure,” Dr Bacon said. Raspberry (named for funny ‘raspberry’ noises he made with his mouth) and 18 other bears had arrived at the AAF’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre at Tam Dao near Hanoi on January 21. They’d made a three-day trip by truck from the farm at Binh Duong, near Ho Chi Minh City. According to AAF founder Jill Robinson: “In essence, Raspberry’s organs were already dead. Yet his pus-filled bile still had been extracted to sell (for traditional medicines). Thanks to the central authorities and to the Binh Duong Forest Protection Department, who closed the farm and passed the 19 bears into our care.” About 4,000 bears remain on farms in Vietnam. The farmers are allowed to display them to tourists, but not to milk them for bile. Yet many ignore the ban. Apparently, none of the other 18 bears has a life-threatening condition. But the AAF veterinarians still faced a full schedule of dental work and other surgeries, including the removal of damaged gall bladders. The sooner bear-bile farmers stop abusing animals the better. Their activities are crude, cruel and outdated, inconsistent with the availability of better medicines from other sources. For more information: www.animalsasia.org

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