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RESCUED IN THE NICK OF TIME
Two rare Moon bear cubs were rescued last week in Houaphan province after being seized from a villager who was raising them as pets. Moon bears, also known as Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are a globally threatened species that are often poached to be sold into a life of torture in a bear bile farm or slaughtered for their body parts to be used in Traditional Medicine. The cubs, thought to be around 4-5 months old, were badly malnourished at the time of their rescue and would have been unlikely to survive much longer if action had not been taken.
The cubs were found being raised in a private house in the village of Khungkhao. After receiving information from a local villager police and military authorities acted swiftly to rescue the cubs - seizing them and sending the owner to court where he was issued with a fine of 16,800,000kip (roughly $2,000USD). The cubs were then passed over to the Nam Et Phou Louey National Protected Area staff for assessment. As both of the cubs are too young to survive on their own in the wild a team from Free the Bears were called and immediately set off on a 600km round-trip to Muang Hiam in order to retrieve the cubs and bring them back to their base in Luang Prabang. The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is Laos' only dedicated rescue facility specifically for threatened bears, and is currently home to 29 Moon bears already rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
"The cubs were both very thin and had little fur covering their bodies. It was clear that they would not be able to survive in the wild without their mother at such a young age and so the best course of action was to send them to a specialist centre where they can receive the care that they need in order to recover" said Mr Huang Sy, Director of Nam Et Phou Louey National Protected Area. Sivalay Duangdala, Nam Et Phou Louey Project Manager for the Wildlife Conservation Society - Lao PDR Program was one of the first people to assess the cubs condition. He added "It is sad to know that these two bears will not have the chance to live life in the wild, unfortunately the illegal hunting of bears and other wildlife continues to threaten many species future survival"
The cubs are currently being kept isolated from the resident bears at Tat Kuang Si but will join them once they have completed a short quarantine period. At the time of their rescue the cubs, believed to be twin sisters, weighed just 5kg and 7kg - around half the weight of a normal cub of their age. The cubs have been placed on a special diet and are already gaining in condition with their fur
recovering and both gaining weight. Free the Bears Veterinary Advisor Dr Kirsty Officer described the cubs' condition as fragile.
"After a poor start to life these cubs showed typical symptoms of being taken away from their mother far too early and being fed an inappropriate diet - stunted growth, retention of fluid and skin disease. However thanks to the speedy actions on the part of the relevant government authorities we expect them both to make a full recovery now that they are in our care"
Sadly the illegal trade in wildlife remains one of the greatest threats to many endangered species in Lao PDR and Moon bears are considered to be one of the most sought-after species by poachers. These bear cubs join three additional bears rescued and brought to Tat Kuang Si already in 2015, and for every bear rescued experts believe that as many as 10 more are illegally killed or traded across international borders. Numbers of Moon bears are believed to have fallen by at least 30% over recent decades, leading to the IUCN World Conservation Union listing them as a species Vulnerable to extinction.
Working Together to Combat Wildlife Crime
This case represented an excellent example of different agencies working together to fight wildlife crime in Lao PDR. Initial action was taken by the military and police, and the cubs were first handed over to the Nam Et Phou Louey National Protected Area staff, supported by WCS Lao PDR programme. Additional support was provided by the Department of Forestry Inspection in Vientiane, and the Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office.
Free the Bears would like to thank all of our partners and collaborators in Lao PDR for ensuring that these cubs were able to receive the care they needed in good time. Only by working together will we be able to end the illegal wildlife trade and ensure that bears remain in the forests of Lao PDR for future generations.
Please consider donating to support our work in Laos and ensure that we can continue to provide a safe home for any bears, like these tiny Moon bear cubs, in need. We need your support now as we start looking for more land to expand our capacity for rescuing more bears in Laos. Click here to donate to Free the Bears to make this possible.