“Poster bear” for ending bile farming
Jasper, 30, the moon bear who became “poster bear” for the Animals Asia Foundation campaign against farming bears to extract bile from their livers, was euthanized on April 29, 2016 due to incurable cancer.
“Moon bear Jasper spent 15 years in a Chinese bile farm crush cage,” the Animals Asia Foundation summarized in a media release.
“Rescued by Animals Asia, he spent 15 years more as the life and soul of the Animals Asia Foundation sanctuary in Chengdu, China before his death this week.
Legacy of bile-tapping
“Veterinarians took the decision to end Jasper’s suffering after an aggressive liver tumor was highlighted by a scan. Recent increased monitoring of Jasper had been prompted when, months earlier, lesions were spotted on his liver close to his gall bladder. Caretakers had also noted Jasper’s loss of appetite.”
Said Animals Asia Foundation veterinarian Emily Drayton, “Although Jasper had been at our sanctuary for many years, I have no doubt that the trauma and damage caused to his liver and gall bladder during his time at a bile farm had predisposed him to this type of cancer.”
Among first bears rescued
The Animals Asia Foundation sanctuary, ten years in conception and three years in development, formally opened on December 16, 2002. About 20 representatives from the Beijing and Sichuan governments and from both local and international news media were present when the first of 63 bears who were transferred to the Animals Asia Foundation in October 2000 were released into bamboo forests within tall electrified safety fencing.
“As the den doors opened, bears Jasper and Aussie cautiously raised their noses to the air and breathed in the smell of a natural environment which was far removed from their lives on a farm,” e-mailed Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson afterward.
Among the most personable of bears, “Jasper was held in a crush cage, absolutely flattened to the bars, with a rusty metal catheter protruding from his gall bladder and abdomen,” recalled Robinson of first meeting him.
“I can remember his cage, the crude confinement, his misery, vulnerability and pain––and his handsome face,” Robinson continued. “And through all his suffering, when he pushed his paw out and patted my hand, he made me smile.
“Since then he kept making me smile. Jasper epitomized both the stoic nature and forgiveness of his species, time and time again. Once he’d had surgery to remove his damaged gall bladder and spent a few weeks resting up and gorging himself on food and treats never before enjoyed, there was no going back. Jasper loved it here, and we loved Jasper,” Robinson wrote.
“Created a family”
“He created a family,” including “a family of people who loved him across the world. For me,” said Robinson, “bad days were put right simply by going over to House 2 to visit him. There he’d be––either deep in the middle of a bear bundle in the grass with friends Banjo, Aussie, and Frank, or waiting expectantly by the bars of his den, sitting in his teddy bear pose, knowing that about half a tub of peanut butter was coming his way.
“He lived for 15 years in a bile farm and 15 years in a sanctuary. Despite the awfulness of his early years,” Robinson finished, “on balance he made his life worth living.”
“Good friend” of Marc Bekoff
“He was a very good friend of mine!” e-mailed University of Colorado professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology Marc Bekoff to ANIMALS 24-7. Bekoff and Robinson were co-authors of Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears, a book for children published in 2013.
“When Jasper arrived,” wrote Bekoff for New Scientist in 2009, he was imprisoned so tightly in an iron framework that “his rescuers had to cut him out. Bear bile,” extracted from the livers of captive bears, “is used in traditional Chinese medicine,” chiefly to reduce fevers, “and fetches a tidy price,” Bekoff explained.
Twice a day
“Bears are milked for bile twice a day,” Bekoff continued. Some bears are milked for bile throughout lives of 25 years or more.
“In China,” Bekoff noted, “farmers use a crude catheter inserted into the gall bladder, or into a permanently open wound. In Vietnam, they use long hypodermic needles. The official number of farmed bears in China is 7,000, but Animals Asia fears the real figure is closer to 10,000.”
Disapproved, illegal, but done anyhow
A survey done in 10 Chinese cities in February and March 2016 by the AITA Foundation for Animal Protection found that 97.4 percent of the respondents agreed that extracting bile from captive bears is “very cruel,” and more than 80% believe it should be illegal, as it already is in 18 of the 31 provinces of China.
Bear bile farming is already illegal throughout Vietnam, but about 1,200 bears are believed to remain in bile production there.
The Animals Asia Foundation sanctuaries in Chengdu, China and Vietnam have between them rescued about 550 bears––about 410 in China, 140 in Vietnam.
Jasper, among the first, “was a most amazing bear being,” Bekoff said. “He loved being in front of the camera and was also a peacemaker. Just thinking about him makes me laugh. He will be missed.”
Blogged Bekoff for Psychology Today, “We can learn a lot about being positive from other animals and there’s always Jasper, a recovered Asiatic moon bear, to think about for hope and inspiration. After years of horrific suffering Jasper became the spokes-bear for forgiveness, peace, trust, and hope.”
Endurance & spirit
Added Animals Asia Foundation China Bear & veterinary team director Nic Field, “Every day these bears teach us about their endurance and spirit, but they also teach us about ourselves. Jasper was a friend to bears and people alike. He brought us all together. He was a wonderful ambassador for Animals Asia, and as an individual highlighted the plight of his fellow species.”