Often when animals have been subject to unimaginable cruelty, pain and suffering, they struggle to leave their darkest days behind them even long after being rescued. But, after years of living in hell, one bear is now the picture of health and happiness at a Chinese animal sanctuary.
Caesar was one of an estimated 12,000 bears who live their lives in Asian bear bile farms. At her farm in China, she lived a heartbreaking existence – forced into a cramped cage and rarely getting to see the light of day.
She barely had any room to move and, in short, led a pretty miserable life. Moreover, to make matters worse, she had the constant pain of an open wound leading directly to her gall bladder. It was a wound deliberately inflicted in order to extract her bile.
Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. Why so? Thanks to its high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) – a substance useful in the treatment of gall bladder and liver conditions. However, many synthetic and herbal alternatives now exist that can be used in its place, which makes bile farming even more unnecessary and cruel.
While bears used to be hunted and killed for their gall bladders, since the 1980s they have been farmed for their bile instead. The animals are often kept in appalling conditions and will have their bile drawn from them for the majority of their lives.
This barbaric process causes bears terrible suffering as well as lasting physical and psychological damage. Now although there are a variety of horrific methods used to extract the bile, among the most gruesome involves the use of a metal jacket – otherwise known as a “torture vest.”
And it was one of these illegal torture vests that was found on Caesar. The savage device was belted around the brown bear’s stomach to hold in place a catheter, which drew her bile.
On top of that, the vest had a spike that pressed directly into her throat – preventing her from making any attempt to bite her way to freedom. It’s easy to see, then, why this cruel contraption has been compared to a torture device from the medieval era.
Indeed, Animals Asia – which works tirelessly to end the bear bile trade – described the vest as “the worst imaginable bile farm torture.” Thankfully, though, in 2004 the charity was able to rescue Caesar from this hell.
“I remember only too well her rescue some four years ago,” Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia, later recalled in a 2008 blog post. “She bounced violently in her rusting cage on the bear farm in Tianjin and I thought she would crash through.”
When Caesar arrived at Animals Asia’s sanctuary, she was clearly very unhappy, and her abdomen was sore and hairless after years of living with her torture vest. The sanctuary staff had a hard task on their hands as they began to rehabilitate this broken shadow of a bear.
In order to give her some semblance of the normal life she’d never known, the staff housed Caesar away from the sanctuary’s other bears in her very own enclosure. That’s because Eurasian brown bears like Caesar prefer a more solitary existence in the wild.
Pretty soon, though, Caesar began to thrive in her new, safe environment. “Once her metal torture vest was removed, she blossomed into a majestic bear,” China Bear and Vet Team Director Nic Field said in a 2016 press release. “She’s a beautiful, magnificent lady who’s learned to enjoy her independence – one day of freedom after another,” he added.
Amazingly, Caesar has begun to see the joy in life again. In fact, she loves nothing more than digging for insects and playing in the sanctuary’s pool. Finally, then, it seems as if this beautiful bear has been able to find happiness.
A video posted to Animals Asia’s Instagram page in 2016, moreover, showcases Caesar indulging in her favorite pastime: swimming. The impressive slow-motion footage shows her flaunting her amazing coat as she shakes her whopping 650-pound body dry.
“Seeing a bear shake themselves like this is always a moment full of awe – they’re such incredibly beautiful, powerful animals and none more so than Caesar,” Field commented. “To see her out in the sunshine – a dozen years on from her rescue – it’s hard to imagine her existence back then… Watching her enjoy her surroundings every day is an absolute pleasure.”
Indeed, Caesar seems like an entirely different bear to the one who was locked up and tortured for so many years. She’s incredibly active and enjoys climbing and running around her new home at the sanctuary.
“Caesar’s scars have all but disappeared, and today she is an astonishingly beautiful (and formidable) bear,” Robinson said in her 2008 blog post. “Caesar is all muscle and all woman!”
Following Caesar’s rescue, meanwhile, China ultimately outlawed the use of torture vests. “Metal jackets are now illegal so less common, but it’s likely that there are still some out there,” Steve Jackson, Animals Asia’s head of communications, told The Dodo in 2016.
However, China has yet to tackle the bigger picture; the country continues to cast a blind eye on the practice of capturing bears and draining them of their bile. And seeing these images of Caesar enjoying her newfound freedom merely cements the fact that she’s one of the lucky ones who managed to escape a life of mistreatment.