Bobo – a personal connection

2018-11-21 07:53     Comment:0

Bobo, the Asian black bear who died in his enclosure in Flora Garden yesterday, and my-humble-self have a personal connection going back to an afternoon stroll in Rua da Felicidade with several friends including two local journalists – Jornal “Va Kio” director Chiu Iu Nang and South China Morning Post correspondent Adam Lee – sometime in the mid-1980s. We first noticed a huge crowd gathering in front of a well-known restaurant known for serving game such as civet cats and snakes.

It turned out that the crowd was attracted by a bear cub in a ridiculously small cage displayed outside the restaurant. Obviously, the cute baby bear, which appeared to be very frightened, was destined for the eatery’s cooking pots. Some gourmands regard bear meat as a delicacy, and the meat of baby bears is supposedly particularly tender. There were rumours that the restaurant had been offered a fortune for the baby bear dish.

Many in the crowd expressed outrage at the situation and my friends urged me to contact the authorities to “do something about it”. I phoned the Macau Security Forces later that day, telling them about the cub’s plight and asking what could be done about. The officers admitted that they were unaware of the situation and promised to look into it. They phoned me back the next day to tell me that they couldn’t do anything because it was neither illegal to display a bear in the public nor to cook or eat bear meat. However, they also told me that they would contact the Leal Senado – the pre-handover predecessor of the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) – to see whether they could do anything about it. Soon after, the same officials contacted me again to tell me the good news: Leal Senado officials had saved the cub from the cooking pot by taking it to Flora Garden. They didn’t tell me, but official sources later told me the baby bear had been brought to Macau without an import licence, which made its confiscation legally viable since smuggling was involved. As it may be, Bobo was spared his culinary fate and lived for over three decades in Macau, several years of them with a “girlfriend” especially brought in from the mainland to keep him company and, hopefully, for a bit of romance. Unfortunately, she passed away some time ago and both, apparently, never developed an amorous relationship.

At about the same time of my personal encounter with Bobo, local Portuguese journalist Jose Alberto Sousa also alerted the authorities about the plight of the baby bear, his friend Paulo Coutinho, now director of the Macau Daily Times, told me yesterday. I was unaware of Alberto Sousa’s laudable effort to save Bobo’s life as well. It shows, once again, that journalists are often unwittingly working on the same matter. Well, what matters is that Bobo (a name – which means “darling” in Cantonese – given to him only later) was given the chance of a comparatively good life, although in captivity, irrespective of whose action ultimately led to his rescue.

Bobo quickly became an attraction in a city which never had a proper zoo. Initially, his cage was rather small but the authorities later built a relatively large enclosure for him.

I am sure that many Macau people have fond memories of Bobo, who was also a living symbol of the many species whose conservation status has been classified as vulnerable (such as our beloved pandas) or even critically endangered (such as the Sumatran rhinoceros).

It remains to be seen whether the public would like Bobo to be preserved by a taxidermist as a specimen so that he could continue his symbolic role beyond his death, or whether they would prefer him to be buried. I am still considering the issue.

N.B. There has been some confusion about the year when Bobo was rescued. Paulo Coutinho and I are quite certain that it happened in the autumn of 1986, after talking to various sources who were in Macau at that time. Other dates that have been mentioned are 1983 and 1984, which in my opinion are impossible because then I wasn’t yet working as a journalist in Macau. I must admit that even my own newspaper may have contributed to the confusion last year, when it mentioned the year 1984 in an article about Bobo, based on information provided by an official source to one of our reporters at that time. We regret the error.

White butterfly orchid flowers were placed in front of Bobo’s statue in front of his enclosure in Flora Garden to mourn his passing yesterday. Photo: Paola Reyes
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