When Laura Godwin, v-p and publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and Brenda Guiberson's editor for nearly 20 years, received a letter from an organization that described the captivity of moon bears, she made a donation, but, she said, "I could not stop thinking about the bears." As Godwin tried to find out more about how to help the bears, the name that kept coming up as being the most effective in aiding the bears was Animals Asia. Guiberson, too, learned from her sources that they were the most respected. Nowhere--not even in the author's note--does Moon Bear mention that the bears are held captive and farmed because of the healing properties of their bile. The photographs at the book's conclusion show only rehabilitated bears. But for children who are concerned about the mention of "cages on bear farms" in the author's note, Godwin and Guiberson wanted to reassure them, as they have been reassured, that there are people devoting themselves to the moon bears' rescue. When Godwin connected with Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson, everything began to fall in place.
Jill Robinson was on an organized tour to a bear farm in Southern China in 1993, where, she says, "I managed to slip away from the group to the basement where the bears were having their bile extracted. I was horrified by what I found--a torture chamber, a hell-hole for animals with the caged victims groaning in agony from the impacts of crude surgery and bile extraction." Robinson was taking pictures of the scarred and wounded bears when she felt a touch on her shoulder. "Turning around, I saw a female moon bear with her paw through the bars of the cage and instinctively, but stupidly, I took it," Robinson recalled. "She didn't hurt me, but gently squeezed my fingers and looked into my eyes. I've never forgotten her silent cry for help. Although I never saw her again, Hong [Chinese for 'bear'] began the dream of the China bear rescue."
In addition to the actual bear rescue effort, Robinson spends a great deal of time on Animals Asia's "Healing Without Harm" campaign, working with the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and others to educate practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine about alternatives to bear bile. "In Western medicine, ursodeoxycholic acid [UDCA], a bile acid found in high concentrations in bear bile, is known to modify cholesterol absorption and excretion, and is used in the treatment of gallstones, biliary cirrhosis and liver cancers. UDCA for Western medicinal use is produced synthetically for cents and is sold across the world--including in China. There are at least 54 herbal alternatives to bear bile, and they are both cheap and effective."
Although Robinson says she has no favorites among the rescued bears, might Jasper (pictured here) be one? "I always say that as much as we rescue the bears, they rescue us," Robinson responded. "When we have a bad day they are there lifting us, making us laugh with their antics out on the grass. Jasper has no time for petty arguments or disagreements and will always step into the middle of a fray as if to say, 'Come on now, boys, let's break it up.' They do, too. He welcomes new arrivals with the friendliness of an old patriarch, and still finds time to rough and tumble with the juveniles in what we affectionately term a bear bundle. For a bear that was crushed flat to the bottom of his cage for 15 years, I find his charisma and kindness breathtaking."
[Photos courtesy of Animals Asia.]