Helping Moon Bears see the light

VETS from Suffolk are using pioneering medical equipment to restore the sight of blind bears in China.

Ross Bentley

VETS from Suffolk are using pioneering medical equipment to restore the sight of blind bears in China.

Now Claudia Hartley and David Donaldson from the Animal Health Trust charity in Newmarket believe the technology could transform the treatment of animals in the UK.

The vets travelled to the Animals Asia Foundation's Moon Bear Rescue Centre in the Shenzhen province in March to perform the life-enhancing operations.

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They used new technology, which has made it possible for cataract surgery apparatus to be easily transported, to treat ten bears with a range of serious eye conditions.

The Moon Bears, so-called because of the crescent-shaped markings on their chest, had been rescued from bear bile farms, state-licensed businesses where the animals are kept in small cages and their gall bladders milked for bile for use in traditional medicines.

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According to AHT, many of the bears are denied adequate food and water to increase their bile production. But such treatment leads to nutritional deficiencies, which can cause a range of complaints including blindness.

Ms Hartley, who first made a fact-finding mission to the centre in November, said: “On my first visit I saw several bears I knew I could help. But the difficulty of getting heavy and cumbersome equipment to China for the surgeries made it virtually impossible.

This new machine changes that. With it we've already given sight back to bears who have suffered immeasurably.”

The AHT eye specialists are the first vets in the country to use the new technology and they now hope it can make a significant difference to the treatment of large animals in the UK with acute eye complaints.

They are already using it to treat horses with Equine Recurrent Uveitis - the most common cause of blindness in horses. Whereas before, horse owners would have had to undergo the cost and inconvenience of transporting their animals to a veterinary surgery where suitable equipment was housed, now the vet can take the portable kit to them.

“The kit really will revolutionise the way we can treat eye disease in larger animals,” added Ms Hartley. “Having it at the AHT means we can save the sight of many larger animals which previously would have been blind permanently.”

Having successfully trialled the equipment, the charity has launched a campaign called “Sight for Sore Eyes” to raise the �35,000 it cost to buy the kit outright.

Moon bears - Factfile:-

- Moon bears are Asiatic black bears.

- They were given the name 'moon bears' because of the crescent shaped markings on their chests.

- Moon bears suffer terribly on Chinese bile farms, where catheters are implanted into the bears' gall bladders through a hole made in the abdominal wall.

- Historically, bear bile was used in traditional Chinese medicine in very small amounts as a supplement.

- Bear bile farming is legal in China and involves an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 bears.

- The animals live in cages little larger than their bodies and endure chronic malnutrition, thirst, severe restriction of physical movement, constant abuse and pain, and chronic illness.

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