Across China and Vietnam bear bile farming is big business. Over 10,000 Asiatic black (moon) bears exist as prisoners, deprived of all but the most basic necessities to keep them alive. They are forced to endure unimaginable pain and torment for up to 30 years; their abdomens and gall bladders crudely penetrated by catheters to collect bile for traditional Asian medicine, beauty products and even wine. Most farmed bears are kept permanently in cages, sometimes so small that they are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are caged as cubs and never released, with many kept caged for up to 30 years. Most farmed bears are starved and dehydrated, and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that ultimately kill them.
This is a dark secret that few know about in the UK but in 1993, British born Robinson took a stand against this practice. With quiet resolve, Jill began an animal welfare movement called Animals Asia created two beautiful bear sanctuaries spanning over 180,000 square metres and brought about a foreseeable end to bile farming in Vietnam. Jill is not wealthy or privileged and the path was predictably difficult. Her objective was clear: to end animal suffering that was perfectly legal practice within a politically charged and socially complicated continent. She overcame the fury, emotion and inertia and has instigated change in the most impactful way. Jill demonstrated that with tenacity and determination she could make a difference by working with government officials, traditional medicine practitioners and bear bile farmers from the inside out.
In China where over 10,000 bears are still caged by an industry that is still legal, Animals Asia now enjoys broad support, with polls suggesting that around 90% of Chinese oppose the cruelty. Moves in recent years by the Chinese government to partner with organisations to provide synthetic equivalents suggest the demand is there for an alternative as well as the resolve to end it.
In Vietnam where caged bears numbers have dropped from 4,000 to around 1,000 - Animals Asia Vietnam is lobbying for a roadmap to end the suffering for good and put in place a plan to rescue and rehabilitate the remaining bears.
Animals Asia is an incredible charity and we’re delighted that a film has been made about their amazing work. Released today the 55 minute documentary is by British Director Andrew Telling. His motivation was that the cruelty of bear bile farming, and Jill’s work to end it, was still known to a relatively small number of people.
Narrated by actor and animal advocate, Peter Egan, this film shows Jill Robinson’s story told from her own deeply personal and often emotional perspective. With contributions from Downton Abbey actress Lesley Nicol, Born Free founder, Virginia McKenna OBE and Guns ‘n’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum, the film explores how, why and where it all began. From Jill’s life-changing moment to the creation of a global organisation, this is the remarkable story of one of the world’s most inspirational animal welfare heroes.
Andrew Telling tells us “I have known Jill for a number of years and during that time learned the true breadth and scale of her work. What I found remarkable, however, was the fact that outside of the Animals Asia supporters, people were less aware of her achievements. We are bombarded by stories of animal cruelty and human fallibility on social media and yet, great people who rise to effect change are rarely mentioned or simply get lost amid the melee of misery.
“Jill sits among peers Virginia McKenna, Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey to name just three. Her approach is apolitical, calm, unthreatening, it’s culturally sensitive in reaction to Asian traditions that might provoke aggression in others.
“Jill has put in place a real and meaningful blueprint for change by working with government officials, traditional medicine practitioners and bear bile farmers from the inside out. If one person sees this film and is inspired to do what Jill done, then making it will have been more than worthwhile. Beyond that if more people can get behind the campaign to end bear bile farming then I have no doubt that it will happen.”
Animals Asia has, to date, rescued almost 600 bears from bile farms and continues to care for almost 400 bears in sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.
We can’t speak highly enough about this ground breaking charity, without them these bears would have no voice and no hope.
Film on sale 24th April, 2017 on DVD (amazon.co.uk for Europe and animalsasia.org for the rest of the world) and a download from iTunes and Amazon (US, UK, Canada and Ireland)