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New Haven for Black Bears
China's first black bear rescue centre opened here yesterday, providing a new home for 84 black bears.

Nearly 100 Chinese and foreign animal protection experts and journalists yesterday braved the heaviest fog this winter in the capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province to launch the centre.

The rescue centre is a symbol of the success of the biggest Black Bear Rescue Programme in the world.

It was initiated by Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), a non-government charitable foundation in Hong Kong, China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and Sichuan Forestry Department (SFD).

Chen Runsheng, secretary general of the CWCA, said that while it would take a long time to end bear farming, the establishment of the centre showed that the Chinese Government would work with AAF to stop the practice in China.

The Black Bear Rescue Programme began in July 2000 when AAF, CWCA and SFD signed an agreement to rescue 500 bears from the worst bear farms in Sichuan and work together to end bear farming in China. It was the first agreement signed between a Chinese governmental department and an overseas animal welfare group. Since October 2000, 34 farms have been closed and almost 100 bears released in Sichuan.

After two years of work by AAF and SFD, the rescue centre opened in Lonqiao Town in the suburbs of Chengdu. The centre, occupying more than 10 hectares, is divided into recovery and living areas, and can accommodate 100 bears.

Jill Robinson, founder and chief executive of AAF, said that plans were underway to source additional land for 400 more farmed bears as part of the 2000 agreement. She hoped that more bears would be rescued and that the centre would be the focus of educational programmes for animal welfare in China.

The Asiatic Black Bears, known as Moon Bears because of the beautiful golden crescents on their chests, are listed under the most critical category by wildlife experts. It is estimated that fewer than 15,000 black bears are left in the wild in China.

(China Daily December 17, 2002)

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