Mellow Moon Bear Moments

The end is nigh, a few hours to go before the flight to Hong Kong and then home to Australia. Yesterday we awoke to blue skies and sunshine. In Chengdu, there is a saying that when the sun comes out, the dogs bark. It is that rare.

The bear gods were smiling on us with the weather and the plan was to spend 10-11 hours at the sanctuary. As it happened we spent a little under 8 hours there in the end. Mainly through being exceptionally slow in getting everyone together. Money was an issue for some and finding a bank that would change Aussie or US dollar was proving to be interesting.

Touring the Moon Bear Sanctuary with Jill

We arrived two hours later than planned at midday. Jill was there to greet us and as usual charmed everyone with her disarming attitude and easy going nature. For me it was lovely to see her again after the roadshow. She inspires me and I often find myself crying when I am with her. Yesterday therefore, was a fairly emotional day.

The day was about seeing behind the scenes, meeting some of the staff and hanging out with the bears. A real treat for everyone and for many the main reason for the whole two weeks. And what a tour. Jill knows almost all of the bears by name and their history and current condition. We were able to take our time and meander through the whole place, seeing much more than the previous visit.

 

Bear Hugs

Cameras clicking away, we were treated to some beautiful and quite rare moments. Benji gamboling about his enclosure trying to get his sister to play with him, Weston and another bear, whose name escapes me, having a full on play fight, way better than any WWF match. A scratch here, some pool action over there, it was great to see.

After a quick lunch Jill led us down to an enclosure we had not yet visited and it was obvious we were in for something special as walkie talkie action was fierce. All lined up and ready we waited in anticipation as the bears were let out for their afternoon stroll. The enclosures were dotted with food, spread randomly to encourage foraging behaviour. The sound of a bell (think Pavlov), lets the bears know that it is time to eat and the doors are opened. They come bounding out, many with missing limbs, yet still showing remarkable agility. Tomatoes seemed to be the food of first choice and their incredible sense of smell meant that even those hidden under piles of rocks were soon discovered.

Feeding time at the Sanctuary where the bears help themselves

We were also treated to a wonderful talk from Jen, an Aussie vet working at the sanctuary. There are a few vet nurses in the trekking group and they found the chance to pick Jen’s brains fascinating. Even those that had no concept of the work undertaken found it very interesting. Jen is over here for a year and has dragged her partner along as a volunteer, (another Aussie vet called ‘Bear’ believe it or not). There are also two Aussie vet nurses here, Carli and Fiona, as well as a number of poms. We had a great chat with them and they all seem to love it here. It must be a great experience, somewhat different from working in the local vet practice back home.

Then we were led up some stairs to the top of a smaller enclosure. No bears were out but the food had been laid out for whoever was in there to come and find it. The gates to the door were lifted and out strolled a fully grown brown bear with deformed legs, stunted from years of being trapped in a cage too small for his body. It was Oliver.

Oliver enjoying his freedom

For all of us this was a fantastic moment. To re-cap, Oliver was rescued in April from Shandong having spent 30 years of his life in a cage. As a bears lifespan is approximately 30 years, he has been fast tracked through the process of quarantine and rehabilitation and is now out on grass twice daily. You can tell by the way he walks that his legs are not what they should be. You can also tell he loves being outside. He is a bear that smiles. Enjoying his twilight years, discovering things he could never have imagined existing when in the depths of his imprisonment.

Yes, I cried. (Just thinking about it brings the tears to my eyes now..). It was another highlight of the trip for me and many others.

Reaching out, Oliver going for his forage

Oliver, chilling out and enjoying himself

The tour continued, past more enclosures and then on

through the cemetery. It is a beautiful but sad place.
Andrew, the first bear ever rescued by Animals Asia is there. Franzi and Rupert, side by side, eternal playmates as they were in life. Assisi and many others, resting serenely but also about to contribute to the growing scientific knowledge and argument against bear farming. The bears are generally cremated. It is the bears with deformities, significant body abnormalities that are buried. Their bones to be dug up and used for scientific research. A cornerstone in the fight that Animals Asia will continue to take on.

The day was finished with a vegetarian banquet and drinks on the roof top above the bear enclosure. The food was delicious and simple, the bears settled beneath us. Jill had one final surprise for us all as she led us, very quietly in two groups down to watch the bears sleep. A truly magical experience. The way in which they lay sprawled in their hammocks, spread out, arms and legs akimbo, is testament to the fact that no bear should ever be in a cage.

Moon Bear Mellowing

Today we are off home. The majority of the group already gone to their various destinations. Nine of us are going to Sydney and we arrive tomorrow, early morning. It has been a wonderful trip. Plenty of highs, a few lows and some great friendships made. Roll on the next trek.

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Buddha Bother, Emei Shan and Fish Nibbling..

A real quick blog today as I have about 25 minutes before we are due to leave the hotel and set off through the Monkey Forest. No technology again for a few days so it’s now or never.

The plane eventually took off four hours late yesterday, which meant that we had to cut short our visit to the largest stone Buddha in the world. Instead of taking the 333 steps up to the top of the Buddha’s head and then the 333 steps back down (numerically significant although I don’t know why) which takes about 2.5 hours, we embarked on a rusty cruise boat which took only 40 minutes.

The largest stone Buddha in the world

The Buddha sits on a confluence of three major rivers and the flow is incredibly swift for such a large expanse of inland water. Wearing our cute orange lifejackets, we were swept down to a gap in the sandstone, to catch a swift glimpse of the 71m high statue. It took 90 years to build and is over 1000 years old. Prior to tourism hitting the area, the locals would meet on the feet of the Buddha and play Mahjong. They now, like everybody else, have to pay to get close. (Unless you are an ex-servicemen, over 70 or under 1.1m…so the sign tells us).

The boat turns round in the current and then fights it’s way back to allow the hungry horde of snappers their opportunity. A mixture of Chinese families and western tourists, everyone wants the right spot on the side of the boat and a friendly jostle ensued.

The hand of Buddha

The face of Buddha

Stunning really, an amazing feat of ingenuity and religious fervour. A shame we did not have enough time to really explore it.

Then it was onto Emei Shan where we are staying at the nicest hotel of the trip so far. It is also home to a horde of German tourists and is without doubt the most touristic spot we have been to so far. The hotel is surrounded by waterfalls and gorgeous carved Buddha images in the red sandstone.. (no piccies due to not taking the camera with me as I went to the shop). It is also without doubt the most expensive laundry stop I have ever experienced in all my travels. More than $30 Australian for 10 pieces. Spud and Kelly (The Perth crew), had to fork out 500 Yuan or just under $100 for their load. Incredible when everything else is much cheaper than Australia. And then they mixed the loads together, so we had to sort out who had what when it was returned…

The hotel also has a hot springs right next to it with five or six different pools and last night for about three hours, some of us took the opportunity to wallow in hot bubbling water and experience the most incredible feeling of hundreds of fish nibbling away at our dead skin.

The sensation at first is decidedly strange. If you sit completely still they mass around you and it is as if you are being tickled in a thousand tiny spots at once. My skin afterwards was smoother than it has been since I was about five. A fantastic experience, one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Today, Money Forest and Temple touring… I am two minutes late already…

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Snow in September

It is 7.55am, our plane is due to take off in 15 minutes but we are going nowhere. It started to snow about 40 minutes ago and already there is a blanket of white across the ground. The entire sky is a grey white colour and all flights into the airport have been delayed, which means that all flights out have been too.

 

Snowed in at Songpan

Some of the group have never seen snow before and are excited, how long this will last as we wait for conditions to improve will be interesting to see. The stone buddha looks to be a long way off. Thank the lord most of us are carrying sleeping bags as carry on as we may well need them.

I have flown dozens and dozens of times but the idea of taking off from Songpan airport in this sort of weather fills me with dread.

The airport floor is looking quite comfortable….

POST SCRIPT…

Four hours late but we are in Chengdu and on the way to the Buddha. The weather cleared enough for planes to land and whilst it was a mildly hairy take off, we made it!!

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Trektastic!!

Pheweeeeee!! Let me say that again,.. Pheweeeeeeeeeee!!

Back in Songpan after 3.5 days of trekking including some of the hardest walking I have ever done. What a trip!

Leaving Songpan on Tuesday, we had a bit of time in the morning for a quick wander through the town as we were due to leave at 9.30am. The night time arrival the previous evening meant that we were seeing the “small town” (our Chinese guide Zu Han’s description) of 80,000 for the first time. The first thing you notice is the tremendous statue outside of the 1300 year old city walls.

Greetings from Songpan

The next thing you notice is the constant noise of construction. It is happening everywhere and is a result of the huge earthquake that occurred two years ago.

One of the trekkers in the group is the husband of the winner of the raffle prize from the Australian and New Zealand Roadshow in July. Spud is from Perth and, perhaps unsurprisingly as he is from Perth, works in the mines. He is astounded at the apparent disregard of health and safety. In a way it is refreshing, the Chinese construction workers work extremely long hours, from dawn until dusk it seems and they wave cheerfully at us as we pass, shouting Ni How (Hello) and then laughing at our badly pronounced replies. The town is gradually being rebuilt but it is a slow process and will take a few more years before the town is once more back to its former glory.

The rebuilding of Songpan

9.30am saw us all gathered at the hotel foyer with our bags pared down to trekking weight, although as this included bottled water for four days the bags were still pretty heavy. Just before we set off we were paid a visit by the local constabulary. Apparently unhappy that we had not filled out the required visitor form for this region. Exceedingly nice, the police officer was merely interested in getting his paper work done and once we had bowed to bureaucracy we were on our way.

A visit from the police

A short hike up the road with all our gear and we were at the meeting point with our local horse team. As with anything out of the norm in China, a crowd quickly gathered and intense discussion at high decibels ensued. Laughter, shouting and 18 bewildered westerners watched as the seemingly implacable horses were loaded up for the four day trip. Initially there was some consternation as to how much weight they were carrying but the resulting four days have shown us that they are very capable and lovingly cared for. (Even when wandering through the campsite at 2am with bells clanging…)

Packing up and heading off

…..And then we were off. To say the first hour was a test of our endurance and ability would be an understatement. Due to climb 600m in the first day, it seemed we did that in the first hour. The group quickly spread into a long straggled line of huffing and puffing, red faced animal lovers.

We were due to climb from 2800m to 3400m and then back down to 3100m for the evening camp. The altitude was affecting a few of the group and many pauses for breath under the guise of taking photographs seemed to be taking place.

We quickly left Songpan and headed into the hills. The town was spread out below us and the incessant sound of car horns diminished by the minute. The day had started brightly and we were sweating very quickly. The higher we climbed however saw more and more dark clouds gathering and then the rumble of thunder in the distance let us know that we were soon to be hit with another storm, this time with no pergola to shelter us.

Doing it tough from the start, leaving Songpan

As (bad) luck would have it, we were hit by the storm when we reached the peak of the hill we were climbing. Lashings of rain and peals of thunder with lightning strikes every few seconds, made it a rather eventful descent. Particularly so for those that had put their waterproofs in the bag the horses were carrying and not in their day sack, (you know who you are!!).

This meant that after the rain, the stateswoman of the group and experienced trekker, Gill Thomas, dug out her spare gear and stopped the trekking novices from getting hypothermia. (Man was it cold!!). An at times perilous descent saw us hit a road where our local guides quickly built a fire to warm us all up. Then it was a 30 minute hike to the first nights camp and for some, the shock of the basic amenities we were to endure for the next three nights.

The tents were essentially filthy white canvas, with sticks as pegs and logs for poles. The ground was soaking and our gear had been exposed to the elements on the back of the horses and so were also not faring well. To top it off, a car on the road had spooked one of the horses which had bolted, shedding all of its gear, including a couple of rucksacks and the head horseman’s monthly rice supply for his family.

Head Horseman Mr Mah

This was a tough day for all of us, and to get to camp to discover the quality of the tents, the fact that nothing hot was yet available and that sleeping bags and gear were damp, was disconcerting for some… to put it mildly.

Altitude was also affecting a few of the group and Vicki Baker, the New Zealand contingent of the trek was severely struggling and opted to pull out that evening. Zu Han organised a car to take Vicki back to the hotel in Songpan and a few were tempted to join her.

The next morning saw three more of the group in difficulty. (Although one of these was self inflicted due to an over appreciation of the local Sogram spirit…Oh yes Ros Metzke..   The youngest of the group, Emma Mitchell, was having difficulty breathing and had pains in her chest. Heidi St John had been hit by a stomach bug and was struggling to eat. Both opted to return to Songpan as there was no going back from this point on.

Compared to day one, day two was a breeze. About five hours of mostly flat terrain, through beautiful forest clad countryside and we were at the campsite for the evening. With only a light shower along the way we were all pretty dry but having climbed to an elevation of 3400m it was considerably colder on the more exposed plateau. A huge roaring fire solved that issue and dinner was prepared quickly.

Dinner’s Up!

Considering the amenities available, the food was superb throughout the trek. Hot, spicy and delicious and that was just breakfast. Lunch seemd to be an afterthought though, never materialising on the second day and essentially consisting of bread on the others.

Lunch.

The second day also saw a fourth casualty, Anthea Van Leent was struggling and as we had passed the point of no return was ferried to the campsite via horse and then spent the majority of day three on horseback. Jealousy abounded amongst the group until we learned that Anthea had fallen off and added to her woes with some lovely bruises and a very sore arm.

For the rest of us, day three was a killer. The promo literature stated that we would reach a summit of 3900m and after a killing hour and a half we had topped 3850m. Easy peasy we thought… oh no.. We topped out at 4200m and it was a case of one foot in front of the other. The scenery was stunning, spectacular, breathtakingly beautiful. We were on top of the world and all the effort was worth it.

Grinning and bearing it.

Spectacular views as we reach the summit

The feeling as we reached the top was one of elation. All of us, without exception had pushed ourselves to get there. Some of us thought that we wouldn’t make it and so the pride and sense of achievement was exceptional. A shared joy, to be savoured forever.

 

Yes! We did it! Hitting the summit.

The trip down was made faster by impending rain. Everyone was in high spirits. We had done it, broken the back of the first trek with just a few hours along the valley floor tomorrow. The boulders and shrubs in the tent, the 45 degree angle of the ground and the fact that almost everyone was out of water and drinking either boiled or purified stream water, did not matter. A wonderfully raucous evening of sogram spirit and swapping Chinese songs for English ensued, (the Chinese won hands down..). 

And that was the first of our two treks. A special thanks has to go out to Wah Wah, our beautiful guide dog who covered at least twice the distance we did making sure we were all still there. If we could smuggle her back with us I think every single one of us would do so.

Wah Wah (Lady), checking that we are keeping up

Tomorrow it’s up at 4am and a flight to Chengdu. then off to see the largest stone Buddha in the world, since the Taliban blew up the one in Afghanistan. Then it’s Emei Shan and more trekking. This time through Monkey Forest, studded with Buddhist Temples.

Tonight we have all gone to Emma’s Kitchen, run by a lovely woman who speaks fluent English. Almost everyone had western food and feels a lot better for it. So good in fact that about half the group have shimmied down to the local nightclub for some serious techno.

For me, bed is calling…..

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Panda…monium

An early start to the day saw us walking out of the hotel at 7.30am to be greeted by an oppressive sky and the rumble of thunder. Traffic, the reason we were setting off early, did not seem too bad, as the predicted hour long journey to the Panda sanctuary took only 25 minutes.

The largest breeding and research centre for Giant Pandas in the world sits just on the northern outskirts of Chengdu. Opened in the mid 1980′s the centre is over 50 hectares big and consists of science labs, a nursery, sub-adult areas and adult enclosures. In the 20 or so years the centre has been running, they have successfully bred more than 130 Pandas. Not a bad record for a species that only has a mating window of about 48 hours every 12 months.

Giant Panda at the Chengdu Panda Sanctuary

Over 8 million years old, Pandas are a dying breed, being saved only due to their iconic status. Having evolved from meat eaters to a diet of bamboo, (and eating only 20% of the types of bamboo that exist in the world), they would not survive for long if left to their own devices. The only Panda to be released into the wild from the centre survived six months. Found at the bottom of a cliff, it is thought he was pushed off by a rival male in a battle for mating rights.

They are however unbelievably cute. Any movement is greeted by the crowds with squeals of delight and the click and flash of dozens of cameras. The keep quiet signs seem to be mostly ignored. The crowds make it a money spinning operation, cuddly toy versions fly out of the gift shops and it is not hard to see why they are the poster bears of China.

It is depressing though. Only a few miles away is the Moon Bear Sanctuary. A bear that can survive by itself but is not being allowed to do so. In the same CITES category as Giant Pandas, the Asiatic Black Bear is not treated with the same level of love and care as it’s cousin.

Having said that, the group enjoyed the visit immensely, some have been Panda lovers since they were young kids and an added bonus was the incredible thunderstorm we were witness to. Trapped under a small wooden pergola, the lightning display and resounding peals of thunder were amazing.

Sheltering from the storm

The visit also included the delightful antics of the Red Panda, not related to the Giant Panda, being from the Raccoon family, the Red Panda is small, quick and cute as a button. The museum is also interesting, with chronicles of the Panda dating back as far as 3000 years ago. The displays do leave a lot to be desired though, with a sabre tooth tiger attacking what looked like a deer whilst prehistoric man looked on. An amazing feat considering they didn’t co-exist.

Panda by name, the Red Panda from the Racoon family

Then it was onto lunch, another incredibly good meal for about $8 Australian and a short trip to the domestic airport for a fifty minute hop to Songpan. Arriving at sunset, the flight into the airport is stunning. The journey down the mountain, slow and bumpy. Houses along the way studded with scaffolding, a legacy of the earthquake here just over two years ago.

Tomorrow heralds the start of four days trekking. Technology free and a 2000 metre climb. Some of us are feeling decidedly light headed from the altitude and it’s going to be an interesting four days. Sharing tents, no toilets, carrying all our water. The trepidation is palpable. Bring it on.

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The Journey Begins..

It’s Sunday lunchtime and we are sitting on the bus driving back into Chengdu after three wonderful hours at Animals Asia’s Moon Bear Rescue Sanctuary. The trip to China was long but mostly uneventful, (always good when planes are involved..). Nine of the party of eighteen departed from Sydney, with Melbourne, Perth, London, Hong Kong and Washington DC being the starting points for the remainder.

Trekkers from Sydney arriving tired but happy at Chengdu Airport

Ten hours to Hong Kong, a brief stopover of two hours and then Dragon Air to Chengdu, China’s fourth largest city and a sprawling metropolis of twelve million. We arrived at 10pm and were immediately hit by 28 degrees and close to 100% humidity. A short drive and we were at the Garden City Hotel, a western style building in the heart of the city centre.

By just after midnight the whole gang had arrived, some heading straight to bed and others having a quick beer and a catch up in the hotel bar. From 18 to over 60, it is a disparate group with a shared passion for bears. It is wonderful to see how well everyone is getting on. Helping each other, sharing items that have been forgotten, getting to know where we are all from, the sound of laughter is commonplace, good times are being had.

Today started with a breakfast of kings, western style continental or delicious Chinese fare. Fried rice, kang kung, steamed buns, chilli ommlette and many more dishes that I have never seen before. Delicious. If this is a taste of things to come in the food department, I cannot wait.

Trekkers on tour at the sanctuary with Lisa the wonderful tour guide

Then it was off to the sanctuary. The first sighting of bears was a special moment for us all. A surge to the front of the bus, oohs and ahhs, cameras clicking away like cicadas at sunset. Once off the bus the excitement grew and our anticipation was rewarded with a fantastic two and a half hour tour given by Lisa, one of the sanctuary staff.

A beautiful Moon Bear, having a quick stretch

There are about 170 bears at the sanctuary, spread over 10 acres and in various enclosures. The first enclosure we visit is for bears relatively new to the sanctuary, recently released from quarantine and getting used to hanging out with each other. The noises are amazing. The bears are talking away to each other, debating who is where in the pecking order of the den.

Moving along through the enclosures and we come to Benji, a huge brown bear who seems to love humans, even after all that he has been through. A slow plod over to the fence and he sits down to see what we are up to.

Benji, checking out the trekkers

The Aussie enclosure is down by the river and houses Jasper, Banjo, Woodley and many others. Telling which one is which is pretty difficult and we will definitely be picking Jill’s brains when in 10 days time we get our own personal behind the scenes tour with her.

This afternoon we are off to shop for trekking supplies and then to the Peoples Park to watch some Mahjong action and hopefully some Lion Dancing. It is hot and sweaty and looks like rain but for all of us, the sun is shinin

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A Trekker’s Checklist

On any trip, I have always tried to balance the desire to bring the house and it’s contents with me, against the need to be able to actually carry my rucksack. Too full and you end up sweating your way around the world, divesting yourself of things you wonder why you packed in the first place. Too light and you rue the day you left those water purifying tablets back at home in the cupboard.

I have found over the years that weight is a great decision maker in the process. Most of us, (i.e. those that travel economy), can take 20 kilos (plus carry on). Keep in mind you need to have some room for presents and goodies discovered along the way and between 11-15 kilos is a great rucksack weight to start any trip with. The trick is choosing the right items, things you will actually use, not things that act as dead weight at the bottom of your bag.

So here is my list of things to take on our trek adventure, I would love to know if there is anything I have left out.. We leave on Saturday, it’s not too late for me to make room.

The Bare Essentials – (pun fully intended)

  1. Passport (with visa if required)
  2. Travel docs (including photocopies of main passport pages, visa and flight tickets)
  3. Cash / Cards
  4. Spare passport photos -I have never needed them yet, but there will come a day..
  5. Universal Travel Adaptor
  6. A phone/watch/alarm clock/MP3 Player/pocket camera/mini games machine (Warning; don’t use the phone abroad as a phone, unless you own a Telcom)
  7. The charger for the above multi-function device
  8. Sunscreen/Insect Repellent
  9. Toiletries, including one toilet roll
  10. A strong black bin bag for laundry and to cover the rucksack in case of rain
  11. A Water Bottle (stainless steel if possible)
  12. A torch (with fresh batteries…)
  13. Sunnies
  14. A phrase book and a guide a book (ideally combined)
  15. A mini first aid kit – band-aids, paw paw salve, gastrolytes, purifiers
  16. A good rucksack and day sack

Clothing - (where temperatures are going to be cold)

  1. Wind and waterproof jacket
  2. Fleece
  3. Thermal top and bottom
  4. Good walking socks (Absolutely Essential!!)
  5. Broken in walking shoes/boots
  6. Thermal gloves
  7. Beanie
  8. Lightweight trekking trousers and shirt

Important but not vital….

  1. Underwear.. – my mother would say this is vital which is why it’s top of the list :)
  2. A few changes of clothes (if you need more you can go shopping!)
  3. A decent stills camera – and it’s charger
  4. A video camera – don’t forget the charger!
  5. Binoculars
  6. A book to read
  7. Money belt
  8. A sleep sheet
  9. A sleeping bag (not always required)
  10. A pillow case to stuff clothes into to make a pillow.

….and finally, totally unnecessary but great to have.

  1. A flint to make fire with

    Frivolous but small.. an oldschool way to make fire

  2. A harmonica to annoy/astound your fellow travellers
  3. Vegemite/Marmite / Tabasco – Add any food item here based on personal preference..

A qualifier to all this is that this list is based on the fact that during the trip it will drop to below freezing. Obviously thermals are not necessary if you are trekking at sea level in the tropics.

I have now scared myself with the amount of things I need to include. I think I may have to let go of the harmonica………

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Only Ten More Sleeps To Go!!

The flights are booked, the visa is in the passport, Lonely Planet poured over and training occasionally avoided. In ten days time we are off to Chengdu. Eighteen of us in total with six days of hard trekking, a couple of days hard shopping, time for a few tourist excursions and most importantly of all, two trips to the Chengdu Moon Bear Sanctuary run by Animals Asia.

Each supporter has paid $6500 to go on the fourteen day trip, with a minimum of $3000 per participant going to the charity. The combined total of money raised by participants is $80,000 and still rising, it has been a fantastic effort.The group are from around Australia with a few interlopers from Hong Kong and America thrown in for good measure. The majority of the group know no one else and by the end of this trip of a lifetime, we will hopefully have made some lifelong friends along the way.

On Saturday the 18th of September we will arrive, quite late, in Chengdu and then head for the sanctuary early on Sunday morning. The visit to the sanctuary means different things for each of us, some have supported Animals Asia for years and it is a chance to see the end result of all the effort they have put in, others are in love with the bears and have a favourite they can’t wait to meet. For me, it is the first time to see the frontline work of the organisation I work for. I also can’t wait to meet Oliver, a thirty year old bear, who has been in a cage his entire life until just recently.

Here he is below, clearly enjoying his new den. He is now going outside daily and one can only imagine what it must be like to be able to move after being in a cage so small, for so long, that his legs are stunted as they had no room to grow. It is a wonderful success story for Animals Asia, he made it through his harrowing journey of rescue, including a four hour operation whilst on the road, and can now spend his twilight years with a new found freedom. (The full story of Oliver’s first steps can be read on Jill’s blog a few posts down.)

Oliver enjoying space for the first time

The following day will be one of contrast as we visit the largest Giant Panda Breeding Reserve in China. A lauded cousin of the much maligned Moon Bear.

After the morning visit it’s a flight to Songpan, 2000m high and infused with Tibetan culture and from there, three days of trekking to the 3900m high village of Kuashiya where a Tibetan monastery perches upon a mountainous precipice.

And that’s just the first four days!! A trip to the largest stone Buddha in the world is also included as is another three day trek up Mount Emeishan where we will hopefully see the sunrise. The highlight of the trip for many though will be the second visit to the Moon Bear Sanctuary. Spending the whole day there, the party will get a personal behind the scenes tour with Jill Robinson, the charity’s founder and finish the evening off with a delicious vegetarian banquet whilst listening to the nighttime sounds of the bear dens.

With only ten sleeps to go the excitement is rising and the quandry of what to pack is just beginning….. I can’t wait.

Animals Asia was founded in 1998 by Jill Robinson MBE and is the only animal welfare group to have signed an agreement with the Chinese Government when, in 2000, a memorandum of understanding was agreed to allow the charity to rescue 500 bears from bile farms. To date, 345 bears have been given sanctuary at the Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu.

For more information go to www.animalsasia.org

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