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