THE eyes of the world will focus on China this summer as the Olympics take place in Beijing, but a west Wiltshire couple are trying to shine a light on some of the less-than-pleasant practices going on within the country.

Val Coyne and her husband Matt, of Meadowfield in Bradford on Avon, are visiting China next month en route to Hong Kong to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

While they are there they will spend time at a bear sanctuary that cares for animals that have been farmed for their bile to use in traditional medicine.

The sanctuary near Chengdu, in the centre of the country, is run by Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), which is now in its 10th year.

Mrs Coyne, 69, said: "We are both animal lovers and have been concerned over the years by the many stories and examples of cruelty to animals coming out of this distant and mysterious country.

"However we have always been interested in overcoming differences and finding out what we have in common and believe that China today is changing rapidly, especially in its attitude to animals."

The couple have supported the AAF charity for many years and it has been working with the Chinese authorities to close down bear farms where Moon Bears are held in cramped cages, too small to turn around in, and 'milked' daily of their bile through holes punched in their abdomen.

Bear bile has long been used as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicines but many practitioners have changed to using herbal and synthetic alternatives.

The Chinese authorities agreed with AAF in 2000 to work towards ending the practice of bear bile farming and have so far released 219 bears into the care of AAF at their sanctuary in Chengdu.

The success that AAF has had is due in part to the changing attitude of people in China, where fledgling animal welfare organisations have been set up run by the Chinese and supported by celebrities and university students alike.

The sanctuary also receives regular visits from school groups so pupils can learn about animal welfare.

Mrs Coyne added: "I urge all animal lovers to give all the help and support they can to this courageous group and their wonderful work."

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