- Written by Nev Broadis
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A fresh start for sixteen Moon bears
Located within Cat Tien National Park is a one-hectare Bear Rescue Centre originally built to hold a small group of bears rescued from the illegal bile trade. Due to the success of the Cat Tien National Park and the Forest Protection Department in rescuing bears, this facility became overcrowded with bears living in unsuitable circumstances. In September 2016 with assistance from our supporters and funding from Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V. (WTG) and the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, Free the Bears began construction of a 12-hectare Bear Sanctuary located within a larger 100-hectare portion of the national park known as Elephant Hill. The site is a rugged hillock sandwiched between bamboo forest and the Dong Nai River. The hill is dotted with large dipterocarp trees, and rises steeply from the surrounding forest. Six bear houses with adjacent forest enclosures, a veterinary hospital and associated administrative buildings are planned for the site and in July 2017 the first set of enclosures was completed.
The first enclosure as seen from the air - almost one hectare of bamboo forest for the rehabilitation of these former bile farm bears
With the first sixteen bears to be relocated chosen, the task of transferring them began. This was no small feat, with each bear needing to be anaesthetised for removal from their current dens, transported by truck to the new site and stretchered up the hill to the new bear house. Each bear was given a brief health check prior to transfer, and a number of bears also had dental problems addressed after being identified during the comprehensive examinations that were carried out in preparation for this move. Tropical storms hampered the team as they carried out final checks on the enclosures. Finally a break in the weather gave the green light to commence the three-day operation.
Free the Bears Veterinary Advisor, Dr Kirsty Officer, monitoring bears during transport
Free the Bears Vietnam Programme Manager Dung and Head Keeper Quan carry the first of the bears to the new enclosure
With all bears safely in their new house they were allowed some time to acclimatise. Soon the time came for us to open the doors to a new life in the thick and lush bamboo forest of Elephant Hill. The enclosures have been furnished with swimming pools, towers and other enrichment items as part of their rehabilitation process. As expected, a few bears were hesitant. However there was no stopping Phat, Duc, Nui and Mat Ngoc who wasted no time exploring their new home. By nightfall on the first day most of the bears had ventured out, with some making use of the forest to bed down for the night; doing what comes naturally for a moon bear.
One of the first bears to set off exploring her new surroundings.
Due to their tragic past these bears will unfortunately never go back to the wild, but thanks to the minimal impact building style and the densely forested enclosure, they are finally getting their chance at the next best thing.
Moon bear Nui takes a drink from one of the many pools in her enclosure.
Vietnam Programme Manager, Nguyen Van Dung said "This is a huge first step, and has dramatically changed the quality of life for these sixteen bears. Work is already underway on the next forest enclosures for the remaining bears. With this huge expansion in capacity we will be in good stead to continue our aim of freeing more of the bears still languishing in illegal bear bile facilities in Vietnam."