Celebrating Women (1/3) : Jill Robinson, the Bear Mama, founder of Animals Asia

It is International Women's day 😀👭🏽💪🏼 on the 8th of March.

We are doing a series of stories of 3 women who have made a difference in their particular field in HK and beyond😊!!

The first lady who we present is Jill Robinson- the Bear Mama, known for working in the field of animal welfare especially with Asiatic Bears.

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Little Jill Robinsons loved animals since forever. Kind of primal love. An innate affinity with them all. She had a lot of love to give to them.

Jill’s mother died in agony of a disease called Septicemia while she was still a little girl. Her Father never really recovered from her loss. Jill and her younger sister spent some time at their aunt’s before going back to living with their father. Amongst all the uncertainty surrounding the child, one thing that Jill was sure of was that she wanted to work with animals and wanted to become a Vet. She started by volunteering with animals as soon as she could.

Jill grew up. One day she met her Jack as they say, and moved to HK in the mid-80s.

In HK, Jill kept working for animal welfare, especially with bears and eventually became the ‘Bear Mama’ rescuing many Asiatic bears from the draconian practice of bear bile farming. Recognized near and far for her work in animal well-being, she was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire) by the Queen.

As Professor Peter li, China Policy Specialist at the Humane Society International puts it, Jill had "single-handedly alerted the world" to the cruel practice of bear farming. The only fault of the poor bears is that their bile has a significant amount of UDCA which is used to cure for certain illnesses in man.

At the start of her HK experience, Jill knew somebody at the charity ‘International fund for animal welfare’ and started working there. Years later, in 1993 a journalist friend of hers who was just back from visiting the Bear farm in China told her that she had to go visit the place. When Jill went she saw all these sad looking bears in cages in the basement of a farm.

In her own words “The day I visited the bear farm was one of the most important days in my existence if not the most important day. It changed everything about my life”. The visit was even more appalling than what she could have imagined in her dreams. To extract bile from the gall bladders of bears, stainless steel catheters are implanted, or fissures are made in the bodies, through which metal rods are painfully poked

The animals were visibly in pain and most of them were sick, walking with difficulty, had missing teeth, heart problems or were dying. “Many bears in the farms die of Septicemia. I could totally relate to the pain they were going through from what my dad told me of the suffering of my mum from that terrible disease…I really felt that my story had come full circle”, says Jill, visibly emotional.

And just as the nightmare was ending, a bear touched Jill’s shoulder with her paw through the cage. As Jill looked fearfully back, the bear stood locking eyes with Jill across the cage bars and didn’t seem to want to hurt Jill. Jill did what today she knows to be the stupidest things to have done as as bears are known to be very aggressive, unpredictable and extremely dangerous - she held the bear’s paw.

Animals Asia was born on Jill’s return to HK. She was on a mission of ending bear bile farming in Asia. She met with a lot of sneering with people thinking that Jill’s dream was completely crazy. Who could blame those people when you looked at the decade we are talking about and the protagonists: Mighty China and a single gweilo lady.

In Hong Kong, she got in touch with legislator David Chu who introduced her to some forest department officials in Beijing. After many months of negotiation; Animal Asia was able to finally sign an open-ended MOU with the Beijing govt to end bear bile farming.

When I WOW her achievement she humbly says “…the fact that I was not a threat was definitely an advantage in pushing things forward”. This was just one of the many successes of Jill and Animal Asia. Jill continues her crusade for animal welfare in Asia and signed another MOU with the Vietnam govt to end bear bile farming by 2022. For this they need an extra 25mln USD to build 2 sanctuaries in Vietnam.

Any regrets Jill might have had all along her difficult path?, “It would be not to have become a Vegan earlier and yes…not tell enough people to see Earthlings, a 2005 American documentary film about humanity's use of other animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.”, She pondered for a bit and said simply.

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