Polly Bear’s Story

When Pollyanna visited China in January 2010 to gather sketch Giant pandas and Amur Tigers for her exhibition ‘Beyond the Great Wall’, she was delighted to take the opportunity to visit a wonderful rescue sanctuary near to the city of Chengdu.

In countries across Asia, thousands of bears live a life of torture on bear farms, so that their bile can be extracted and used in traditional medicine to cure ailments. Bears are confined in cages which vary from agonisingly tiny "crush" cages to larger pens, all of which cause terrible physical and mental suffering.

The Animals Asia Foundation has created a wonderful sanctuary where bears rescued from a life of unmitigated misery can enjoy everything they were denied on the farms. Happy, healthy bears have unlimited access to tasty food, the pleasure of roaming in lush natural foliage or swimming in cool water.

Pitiful, caged newcomers are professionally treated and healed by the Animals Asia veterinary team, which is globally recognised for its expertise in caring for rescued farmed bears in China. The sanctuary is the first of its kind in the world – an adventurous creation that combines a safe, semi-natural environment for the bears in rehabilitation areas and bamboo forest enclosures. Catering to their special needs are professional on-site managers and workers, plus experts (including volunteers) who are experienced and qualified in working with bears, and who ensure that each day is filled with interesting enrichment activities to keep them stimulated throughout the day.

Ten years ago, Pollyanna helped to raise funds to build the first enclosures at this unique facility, by donating a specially completed original painting, which was also reproduced as an exclusive limited edition print. When Jill Robinson, founder of Animals Asia heard that Pollyanna was planning to visit China, she extended an invitation to visit the centre. Pollyanna, along with her daughter Anna-Louise, who is also a trustee of the Pollyanna Pickering Foundation, spent a wonderful day at the sanctuary on an unseasonably warm January day.

She was able to see the newest arrivals in their rehabilitation pen, as well as the long term residents in their spacious and well equipped enclosures. “It was a very emotional visit” Pollyanna commented “Although I have read a great deal about the trade in bear bile, and the appalling production methods, I was still unspeakably shocked to see the horrifically tiny cages which are on display in the education centre having been confiscated from bear farms. But it was truly joyful to then see the rescued bears playing in their enclosures, or stretched out in sleeping hammocks enjoying the warm sun”. Pollyanna was able to spend the day watching and sketching the rescued bears.

While Pollyanna and Anna-Louise were at the sanctuary news came through of a further 12 bears awaiting rescue from a bile farm in Vietnam where the practise is now illegal.

Pollyanna was delighted to be able to present Jill Robinson with a cheque for £5,200.00 to fund the rescue of one of the bears, and his safe transfer to the foundations’ sister sanctuary in Vietnam.

When Pollyanna presented Jill with the cheque to fund the rescue of one of the Vietnamese bears, Jill told her that one of the bears awaiting rescue was missing a paw. Bears are often found in the farms with missing limbs, an indicator they have been caught in the wild in a snare trap.

Jill explained that it can be harder to find sponsorship or funding for these bears, as many people or organisations prefer to rescue a ‘whole’ bear. Pollyanna and Anna-Louise confirmed that the Foundation would be happy to fund the rescue of the bear who was missing a paw.

Jill immediately asked if they could name the rescued bear ‘Polly’ – and Pollyanna was of course happy to agree! Shortly after her return from China, Pollyanna received confirmation that Polly bear had arrived at the sanctuary, and undergone the usual health checks, which revealed just one problem…….. Polly was a boy! So he will now be known as Polly Boy Bear.

Polly was one of 19 moon bears rescued from years of torture and transferred to the Vietnam Moon
Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao. To date, this is the largest number of bears rescued in Vietnam in one operation. Discovered cramped in 40ft cargo containers on an illegal bile farm in the southern
province of Binh Duong, near Ho Chi Minh City, this group of bears underwent a gruelling, three-day road-trip to safety.

Tuan, the director of the Vietnam sanctuary said all the bears from the farm were wild-caught. Tuan and the rescue team were disturbed to see the living conditions of the bears – locked in isolation in small prison-like cells, with inadequate food and water and only the cold, metal floor, often dirty and wet, to lie on. In his opinion, the rescue came just in time for the 19 bears. “It would have been so hot and suffocating for the bears in those containers over the summer months. I doubt they would have survived.”

The bears were fed before leaving and given lots of water melon and dragon fruit during the trip. As it was very hot on the first day, the lorries stopped every two hours to check on the bears and give them water, fruit, and banana leaves.

Polly was the last of the bears to be unloaded from the transit truck, where Jill Robinson was waiting to welcome him to his new home. She described him as “A gorgeous three-limbed boy, missing his front left, who hopefully won't mind his new rather feminine name.” She told us “Polly also has the longest neck in the world - and has the nickname "Giraffe". He also has a nice spotty crescent that looks like a mayoral chain around his neck. Weight is 150kgs and all looking good.” A week later we were pleased to receive a further update – “He starts bouncing and clucking late in the day, but seems content for the most part. He eats all of his mazuri and rice, but leaves all the veggies. He loves browse, and has eaten all enrichment except coconut.”

Pollyanna commented “We are delighted to have been able to give this beautiful bear the opportunity to enjoy the rest of his life in the lovely surroundings of the Animals Asia sanctuary. Of all the many cruelties humans inflict on animals, I think bear farming is the worst. The animals are kept in such unspeakably cruel conditions, and are in constant pain sometimes for as long as twenty years. I would like to say a huge thank you to all the supporters of our foundation for helping us to give at least one bear a chance for a better life.”

Click on the year below to view the updates for Polly Bear
2010 & 2012


A Moonbear at the sanctuary
Click here to befriend Polly Bear


Pollyanna examines a metal corset restraint removed from one of the rescued bears


Incredibly an adult bear was kept inside this tiny cage before being rescued by Animals Asia


Polly bear enjoys a snack in his rehabilitation cage

We are very proud, with your help, to have been able to rescue Polly Bear from a life of misery and bring him to the wonderful surroundings of the
Animals Asia sanctuary.

We now want to commit to continue supporting Polly, and to fund his care at the sanctuary for the rest of his life. It costs £1100.00 to feed and care for a bear each year, and with your help, we want to be able to provide at least this amount annually.

We are offering Foundation supporters the chance to Become a Friend of Polly Bear, and help pay for his ongoing care, including food, medical care and just as importantly his ongoing enrichment programme, which will provide Polly with special treats to keep him happy and occupied – treats like fruit ice blocks, rubber kongs, honey, raisins and tofu-filled bamboo shoots – all of which will keep him stimulated and occupied for hours!

For a minimum donation of £35.00 you can befriend Polly Bear for one year. As a thankyou you will receive a personalised friendship certificate including a photo of Polly and twice yearly updates on his progress, along with a bookmark and a set of four greetings cards featuring different bears of the world painted by Pollyanna. Most excitingly everyone who befriends Polly bear will be entered into a prize draw to win a signed limited edition of Pollyanna’s sketch of a moonbear (above). This print is strictly limited to just 100 copies. Every time just ten friendship packages have been bought, one lucky winner will be drawn, and will receive their picture.

The prints are also be available to purchase through our online studio at £95.00 (post and packaging free). £50.00 from the sale of each picture will be donated to Polly bear’s annual care. Click here to purchase securely

We would also urge you to write to the Chinese government to stop other bears suffering the same cruel treatment. Click here to download a sample letter