I was fortunate enough to witness a health check on Smart, a bear who is thought to be in her late teens and has been in the sanctuary for seven years. She has lost 40kg, is sleeping a lot and suffering severe hair loss. Heather, the head of today’s veterinary team, says that they fear she could be in the early stages of cancer. The blood tests will hopefully shed some light. In the meantime, Heather has to remove eight teeth which are in various stages of rot and disintegration.
This poor bear has spent many years biting on the bars of her bear bile cage in pain and frustration. As a result, teeth are broken, infected and decayed.
Three hours later, her operation is completed. The blood tests come back showing her bloods are at the top end of normal for her liver and worst-case scenario is that this could indicate the beginning of a fatal liver cancer, which claims more than 40% of the bears rescued by AAF. The vet team will be keeping a watchful eye on Smart and do further blood tests in two to three months to see if things have progressed.
To have the opportunity to touch and stroke this glorious girl, to rub her back and massage her paws was something I’ll never forget.
I then took a tour of the sanctuary with Rainbow and it is an impressive operation with 150 staff and 170 bears over 25 acres of enclosures. It was incredible to see all these bears, lolling around on hammocks, playing with each other, taking a dip in the pool and just being able to be bears.
Their memories of the hell and torture they have been through is hopefully fading into a nightmarish past. It is unbelievable that they can trust again, the species who have imprisoned and tortured them their entire lives. But they do. Several bears showed great curiosity at my presence and came over to say hello.
A visit to the graveyard was next, where over 90 bears are buried, all marked with little wooden crosses and a stone bearing their name and date of death… of course no one knows when they were born. "Andrew” the first bear to be rescued takes pride of place with a specially inscribed stone.
Another sobering sight was a pile of crush cages that bears brought to the sanctuary have arrived in – a ghastly reminder of their hideous pasts. These cages are not big enough to put your cat in let alone a fully grown bear.
One of the sanctury’s oldest residents, Franzi, somehow survived 22 years in an even smaller cage (see photo) that stunted her growth and permanently deformed her spine. She now is 30 years old and lives peacefully with Rupert – an adorable brain-damaged bear.
Tomorrow we look forward to being present at breakfast time when the bears are released from their overnight dens for breakfast and another day in the sun.