Rescued from horrendous cruelty, inspirational "moon bear" Chu Chu dies peacefully in China

Grace has devoted her career to animal welfare ever since she saw Chu Chu, an Asiatic Black Bear, rescued from a life in cruel captivity.

Chu Chu, the Asiatic black bear who inspired me to join the cause for animal welfare nearly two decades ago, recently died peacefully in China.

It was a bright sunny day in 1996. I stood behind the video camera on the observation bridge at the Pan Yu Bear Sanctuary, built by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in southern China’s Guangdong Province. 

Also on VIDEO: Dedicated to saving tigers, fighting wildlife crime in India

Rescued from horrendous cruelty on bear bile farms in China, eight Asiatic Black Bears—also called “moon bears” because of the crescent-shaped marking on their chest—were being relocated to the bear sanctuary, the first of its kind in the country.

“Doors open!”

Someone signaled from the rooftop when the chains were pulled to lift open the doors of the inside enclosure. The camera started rolling, and all eyes were fixed on the opened doors expecting the bears to rush out into the inviting sunshine.

We waited.

Slowly a dark form emerged from the doorway.

“It’s Chu Chu.”

Rescuers recognized the relatively young male from a long scar almost the length of his back where fur has been rubbed off exposing the skin underneath.

The scar was the result of Chu Chu rubbing against the metal wires protruding into the cage for many years.

Chu Chu was rescued from a cruel bile farm, where many Asiatic Black Bears are confined to small cages. This moon bear has over-grown claws, which, when left un-treated, can grow into their paws. Luckily, Chu Chu was able to escape such a cruel fate.

To obtain bear bile, an ingredient historically used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, people used to kill bears in the wild. Since the 1980s when killing wild bears became illegal, China adopted the method of farming bears for their bile. 

Instantly, hundreds of farms were set up across China where thousands of wild caught bears were kept in tiny cages with catheters surgically inserted into their gall bladders to constantly collect bile.

To keep the catheter in place, some bears were fitted with “iron vests”, preventing them from scratching the puss-infested, painful openings on their bodies.

Some bears were confined for up to 13 years in cages so small they could barely move. 

Though they have poor eyesight, bears have keen senses of smell.

Sniffing the air, Chu Chu slowly moved to the edge of the concrete foundation, obviously aware of the enticing smell just a few feet away, where grapefruits, apples and bananas had been strewn across the grass.

Beyond the concrete was moist soil, fresh grass, fruit trees and berry bushes...Chu Chu carefully placed one of his front paws on the grass, testing his new environment...

As if he had received an electric shock, Chu Chu jerked back his paw!

He paced a few steps left and right on the concrete. Attracted by the smell of fruits, Chu Chu tried again... 

Again, he recoiled, unable to trust the seemingly alien landscape.

After spending his entire adult life confined to a cage with a concrete floor, Chu Chu had forgotten the natural feel of moist soil and soft grass.

Aside from the gabbling of ducks in the pond next door, a deep quiet enveloped the sanctuary.

Later that day, after Chu Chu eventually took his first step to freedom, he and the other seven bears explored every corner of the sanctuary.

Watching them standing up on their hind legs to reach the honey smeared high on the tree trunks, part of the exercise regimen to make them stretch their leg muscles, I smiled.

Tears, however, were streaming down my face.

Years of torture on the bear bile farms had left them mental and physical wounds that could take a lifetime to heal.

Yet, they are still the lucky ones.

One of the nine bears rescued by IFAW did not make it.

When she was put into a tiny cage at the farm, she was still a baby. The cage stunted her growth and prevented her from developing chest bones. When rescuers cut the cage off her body, she couldn’t even keep her head up, nor eat on her own.

She had to be euthanized. 

The rescued bears can never go back to the wild again.

They will live out the rest of their lives in the comforts of a sanctuary, which gives them a small recreation of the natural world that they once knew and loved.

Many others still toil in such horrific conditions.

The moment Chu Chu took his first step to freedom, I stopped being an observer.

I became an advocate for animals.

As I stood there and watched the bears playing in the pool, rolling in the grass and enjoying piles of fresh fruit, I decided then that I would join IFAW.Chu Chu plays with a basket at the Pan Yu Bear Sanctuary, China. Though he was unable to return to the wild, Chu Chu lived a happy life in this sanctuary.

To ensure the best geriatric care for the rescued bears, in 2005, Chu Chu was moved to the larger bear sanctuary in Chengdu, Sichuan Province run by the Animals Asia Foundation, where he continued to enjoy the care and love of rescuers, caretakers and veterinarians. 

That brings tremendous conciliation to me.

I hope that the tender, loving care Chu Chu enjoyed in the second part of his life would cause the scars, left by the horrendous torment on the bear farms on his body and in his heart, to fade.

What brings me more satisfaction is to witness the growing opposition against cruelty to animals from within China.

Legislative proposals to abolish bear farming and establish animal welfare laws were repeatedly tabled at China’s legislative conferences.

Widespread public condemnation successfully stopped the attempt by a bear bile farming business to go public on the stock exchange.   

Obviously, I am not the only one whose life was forever changed by Chu Chu, the kind and forgiving moon bear. 

That is his legacy.

Bye Bye, Chu Chu, and Thank you!


Help IFAW continue to help bears and other animals worldwide, make a donation today.

Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy