A NORTH Lancashire vet has just returned from China where she has been working to improve the lives of bears used in the country’s bile industry.

Hannah Stephenson, of Tunstall, near Kirkby Lonsdale, headed to Animal Asia’s China Bear Rescue Centre near Chengdu, where she put her specialist veterinary heart skills to use on moon bears.

The 140 bears at the sanctuary have been rescued from bile farms, with some previously being caged for up to 30 years to be ‘milked’ for their bile, which is used in traditional medicines and household products.

Mrs Stephenson, 31, whose day job sees her travelling across the North West as a specialist heart vet, said: “It was an amazing experience because it was such an interesting place – there are so many bears there! When you’ve heard about this awful bile farming it’s so lovely to see the bears in a nice environment.

“They really seem to enjoy themselves now. They come out and look for their breakfast, curl up and sleep and play together.”

Along with former colleague Chris Linney, she spent ten days at the site performing echocardiograms, ECGs and overall cardiac evaluations, to take an in-depth look at the heart problems the bears face.

She also shared her knowledge and advised local vets how to use the ultrasound machine and to screen the animal’s hearts for disease.

“We do not know why they have heart problems but think the stress of what happened to them has contributed,” said Mrs Stephenson.

“They asked us to go and screen them because they have had a couple of bears with the heart problems, and wanted to know if others have them too.”

She hopes to continue working with the Animal Asia charity to help more moon bears.

She said: “I have never done anything like this before – it was my first ‘wildlife’ experience in cardiology and a rare opportunity. But I will definitely be keeping in touch with those at the centre, and may go back in a year or 18 months’ time to see if there has been any difference.

“The people there have done such a great job – it is a really good charity.”

For more information visit www.animalsasia.org/intl/