Preparing Medicine on a bear minimum…

Over 20 of the bears at Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre are on medication, just like many cats and dogs. In many ways bears take their medication like cats and dogs as well, hidden in a tasty bit of food! One of the roles of the volunteer (once shown how to) is to prepare the medication every day for each bear.

The medication is put into a “shake pot”: a tall plastic cup that would hold a milk shake or smoothie. This is a clue to how the tablets are disguised to give to the bears. Most are given pushed into a few small pieces of ripe banana covered in honey (fed to them on a spoon to make sure they have taken it) but some have theirs dissolved in an apple and pear smoothie which they lick with their very long tongues straight from the cup.

But before all that can happen the medication has to be dispensed. This happens when the afternoon and following morning’s medicines are prepared. Firstly all the cups are collected from the bear kitchen and brought to the hospital prep room for sorting. Do you remember that matching pairs game you played as a child? This is what that game prepared me for! All the cups are numbered with the bears’ V number and whether it is an am or pm medication. The V number is the individual bear’s identification number with the V signifying that the bear is at the VBRC (Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre). You have to line the cups up on the work surface, in the order they appear on the medication board, in their am and pm pairs with their lids.


All ready to sort out some ‘bear-shakes’!


Then you have to check the medication board to see which medication needs to go into what cups and how many of each drug.

Lots of drugs to sort out to the right bears.

Lots of drugs to sort out to the right bears.

When you are first being taught how to do this it takes ages to find the drug, check the dose, count the tablets and double check you have everything correctly done. After about a week it gradually becomes almost routine – still lots of checking and double checking but less standing in the middle of the room and just staring blankly and wondering where you had got to on your list!


But Why all this medication?

A lot of these bears are on long term medication for high blood pressure. I have found out on this trip that the fact that they have high blood pressure has been found out from their eye examinations rather than by any other measures. Bears who have been farmed for their bile have significant long term health effects from the abuse, starvation, poor diet, dehydration and inadequate conditions. Eye problems are very high on the list and it has been shown that high blood pressure causes damage to the retina in the eye. So years of dehydration and poor nutrition have taken their toll and the result is they need medication to reduce the blood pressure to stop the damage to their sight.

Most of the bears are very motivated by food and will take their medication disguised by fruit relatively readily – others are less easily fooled. One bear refuses to take his pain medication no matter how they have disguised it – banana, honey, jam, condensed milk or smoothie. So now he has his medication finely ground and hidden inside capsules which are then hidden inside banana and honey – hidden enough so that he doesn’t get even a hint of a taste of them.


Even bears can be fussy...

Even bears can be fussy…

When all the medication has been put in the cups and double checked against the medication board the cups are loaded back into the basket. This basket is taken back to the bear kitchen where the staff distribute it to the correct bear house for afternoon and the following morning feeds. When it gets to the bear houses the bear workers check it against their board and make sure that the individual bear receives their medication at the correct time. If the bear doesn’t take it for any reason (refusing to come down from the basket is a common one in the Winter) the vet team have to be notified by radio. This doesn’t happen very often because the bear workers know their bears well and the bears know the routine of coming to the front of the den. After all it’s for a tasty smoothie or a few pieces of yummy banana smothered in honey spoon-fed by a friend – why would they refuse?


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