Former NBA star Yao Ming has been dedicated to advocating for animals in Asia. He has helped launch a billboard campaign in China against shark fin soup and joined Richard Branson in asking the country to ban shark fins. Ming has also spoken out against bear bile farming and recently joined the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) to meet rescued bile bears.
This month, Ming and his wife Ye Li spent a day at Animal Asia’s moon bear sanctuary in Chengdu, where founder Jill Robinson introduced them to some of her rescued friends. According to an AAF press release, “Across Asia, an estimated 14,000 moon bears are being held in captivity on farms and milked for their bile because its believed to be effective in the practice of traditional Asian medicine despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives.”
The bears are kept in small cages, and their bile is extracted through catheters or open holes in their abdoments, says AAF.
Ming’s visit was an emotional one, including a visit to the sanctuary’s cemetery and with the vet who was performing a health check on Belton Kleberg, a bear who was illegally trapped in the wild before being sent to a bile farm. Ming even helped clip his claws. Robinson writes on her AAF blog, “As Yao Ming ran his fingers over Belton’s scar tissue you could have heard a pin drop, before this thoughtful, gentle man looked at the pictures and pathology of other victims of bile extraction and pondered the reality of the bear farming trade.”
The former NBA star said, “Moon bears are beautiful animals in nature; let’s love and care for moon bears together. Support Animals Asia and help the moon bears.”
Robinson adds, “Yao Ming is a lovely guy and it was such an honour to have him visit the bears at our China sanctuary. He made some very thoughtful comments and was really encouraging to the whole team. It was a pleasure to have him visit, and we are very proud that he is a friend to the moon bears.”
AAF says that many of their rescues spent 10-30 years in tiny cages being milked for their bile. You can see more of their amazing work here in photographs taken by Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals of an AAF moon bear rescue and sanctuary.