16 September 2012
I've just returned from China to visit the sanctuary for moon bears which have been rescued from China's bear farms. You may not be aware, but since the 1980's, Chinese 'farmers' have kept thousands of brown Asiatic bears in cages in which they cannot move at all in order to extract bile from their stomachs. Around 7,000 bears are currently trapped in these nightmare conditions, stuffed into horrific, tiny cages, a metal jacket fitted around their body and a tube shoved into their stomach to extract the bile which is sold for Chinese medicine. The horror increases when you know that these huge bears can live for thirty years in these conditions, slowly going mad and enduring appalling pain at the hands of these 'farmers'. An English woman called Jill Robinson found out about what the Chinese were doing and started rescuing the bears from farms that were closing down. She managed to secure premises to keep them in Chengdu, where she and her amazing team look after these battered and wounded bears in the most extraordinary way. Those that are beyond care are put down - those that are still able to enjoy their lives are given everything possible to provide some joy in their final years. I can't imagine any animals in the world being cared for with such detail and dedication. I had never been involved with an animal charity, but one day I opened The Daily Mail and saw a picture of a bear in one these cages which shocked me beyond words. So it was fantastic to find that there was this woman called Jill who was giving people the possibility of being able to help - that I was actually going to be able to do something to help the bears being tortured in this way.
Each year the BSC gives Animals Asia a performance from which they take all the money and we are now into our fifth year of producing these special shows. Our next performance will be at 6pm on 16 December with Horrible Histories at The Garrick Theatre. And this year the charity invited a few of its supporters to go and see the sanctuary so we could better understand the challenges and the triumphs of their work. What came across more strongly than anything is the extraordinary achievements of Jill, who has surmounted multiple bureaucratic obstacles in China to win not only the chance to do her work, but to begin the fight to have these 'farms' closed down. It's a long battle, but due to her campaigns, eleven provinces have declared a ban on farming. They have never had bear farms themselves, but they have agreed they will not allow it in the future and it is a strong argument to put before the provinces which still encourage these farms. The most amazing thing I discovered about Jill is how she can manage herself in the face of the pain and distress of the bears and the anger she must feel about the Chinese for allowing this barbaric cruelty. I think most people would be totally unsuccessful in controlling their anger and spoil any chance of working with the Chinese to get this practise stopped. Somehow Jill, who's whole life is the protection and care of these bears, manages to conduct herself in a way that allows her to seek co-operation from the authorities who she so desperately needs to listen to her. She is one of the most remarkable people I've ever met. If you think you might want to get involved in this charity, have a look at www.animalsasia.org where you can find more information about their work and how you can help. Having taken this recent trip to China, I can vouch that every single penny goes to where it is needed. For example, one bear farm is trying to get listed on the Chinese stock market so they can increase their farm from 1000 to 10,000 bears: Jill is doing everything possible to try and prevent this happening. It's heartening to know that despite all the cruelty we humans inflict on the animal world, there are some people with such utter integrity, dedication and passion who allow those of us less able to do this work the chance to help them tip the balance in the animals' favour.
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