Bears' Print May 2021

Please enjoy our bi-annual newsletter featuring 2 very special Mary's & achievements of the Free the Bears family we can all be proud of. Mary Christmas is the cover model & we pay tribute to our incredible & inspiring founder Mary Hutton. Read or download the full newsletter by clicking here or highlights below.

Dear Supporters and Friends, Greetings to everyone in the Free the Bears family, we hope you are all healthy and safe. Over the past difficult year, thanks to the BBC docuseries ‘Bears About the House’ as well as our wonderful supporters holding fundraisers and sharing social media posts, many more people around the world have learnt about the suffering of bears in bile farms and the illegal wildlife trade, and the work of Free the Bears to help them. We’re incredibly grateful for the increased awareness of the plight of the bears and the increased support for our work - it saved us from what could have been a disastrous year after COVID removed many fundraising sources.

What many of our new Bear Carers may not know, however, is the incredible story of how Free the Bears came to exist - the story of how an ordinary Perth grandmother became an extraordinary animal activist, the story of Mary Hutton.

In 1993, Mary Hutton’s son Simon insisted she watch a television news report about the terrible suffering of moon bears in bile farms, kept in tiny cages for life, regularly mutilated to extract bile from their gall bladders. Mary couldn’t get the images out of her mind. She felt as though she needed to act. But with no background in wildlife conservation, she wasn’t sure what to do. So she took a clipboard and stood at the entrance of the local shopping mall, feeling a little foolish.

Mary collected thousands of signatures for a petition to help “Free the Bears”. With husband Ron and son Simon providing support and encouragement, Mary contacted local media and politicians, gathered like-minded people, and in 1995 registered Free the Bears Fund as a not-for-profit charity. As Mary organised raffles, film nights and other events to raise awareness and funds, word of her work spread and requests for help arrived. After being asked to help a pair of sun bears rescued from a restaurant in Cambodia, having seen there were more bears in need, she began construction of the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary, now the world’s largest sun bear sanctuary.

A 2002 request for help led Mary to India. Over 7 years Free the Bears worked with Wildlife SOS and International Animal Rescue to rescue over 500 sloth bears from the streets to  sanctuaries, ending a centuries-old tradition and providing livelihoods and education to impoverished families.

In 2003 a Bear Rescue Centre was opened in Luang Prabang, Laos. In 2005 when Mary's son Simon was fatally injured by a car while building the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary, Mary wasn't sure she could continue. But she knew Simon would want her to, and in 2008 a Bear Rescue Centre was opened in Cat Tien, Vietnam, followed in 2017 by the multi-species Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. Thanks to Mary’s determination and strength, over the past 26 years Free the Bears has helped rescue over 950 sun bears, moon bears and sloth bears, and provides lifelong care to hundreds of bears at our sanctuaries.

Despite Mary’s humility and preference for the focus to remain on bears in need, her efforts haven’t gone without recognition - finalist for Senior Australian of the Year, an Honorary Doctorate and a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2020. Although in her 80s, Mary continues to help Free the Bears (she’s probably in the office now, taking calls or talking to a journalist) and on May 29th, Mary will spend a Night In A Cage (we hope you’ll visit Mary’s fundraising page and sponsor her).

Mary has shown us that we all have the power to make a positive difference to the world. She’s a hero to everyone at Free the Bears, as well as many more around the world. Thank you, Dr Mary Hutton OAM, you’re an inspiration to us all!


Seven orphaned sun bear cubs have arrived into our care over the past few years. Tiny, malnourished and defenceless upon arrival, under the expert loving care of our team at the Cub Nursery and Quarantine Centre, the cubs have made full recoveries, with some of the bears now large enough to move to forest enclosures within the main sanctuary.
Over the past 26 years we’ve rescued 211 sun bears and moon bears in Cambodia, with 120 rescued bears currently in our care. Renovations to facilities have been a key focus of the past 6 months, repairing, improving and preparing enclosures for current residents, growing cubs and future rescues. In December 2020 we installed a new roof over Bear House 5.
Our Bear Care Team has been getting their hands dirty building new fencing and bathing pools in Bear Houses 1, 5 and 7, with additional climbing platforms and pools currently under construction. Two young male sun bears, Hank and Sweet Pea, have just moved from the Cub Nursery to a huge forest enclosure and are taking delight in chases through the forest followed by dips in the pool and naps in hammocks.
Bamboo fencing has been installed to shield enclosures and a herbal medicine garden was completed (after having to make it monkey proof) to educate visitors about herbal alternatives to bear bile and traditional wildlife medicines.
In November we sadly lost Cairo, a gorgeous female sun bear who enjoyed 13 years of loving care at the sanctuary after being rescued from an illegal zoo in 2007. Cambodia managed to mostly avoid COVID lockdowns in 2020 with few cases registered. Sadly, that hasn’t lasted into 2021, with increasing numbers of positive cases over recent months.
In December we were able to host groups of students from schools and universities as well as a group from the Australian Embassy. Everyone enjoyed learning about the issues facing bears and other wildlife, utilising fun games, quizzes and bear-themed team building activities. More school visits were scheduled, however COVID lockdowns have forced education events to be postponed until later in the year.
Earlier this year we held two ‘Wild Weekend’ volunteer trips for local residents, a new concept we developed to cope with the loss of volunteers from COVID restrictions. It was great to have volunteers back at the sanctuary and we received very positive feedback from the participants, which is always nice to hear.
In January, prior to lockdown, we were able to hold a small screening of the BBC series Bears About the House, a lovely event which was enjoyed by all and raised over $500. We hope to repeat the event at a larger cinema later in the year. 
Our research team are progressing studies into the behaviour of hunters and status of wild bear populations, and Cambodian researcher Thona is planning to present a conference paper on wildlife use in Traditional Khmer Medicine - great work Thona!
Throughout the turmoil of COVID lockdowns we had to move our small Phnom Penh office. The previous location had been our main office in Asia for over 10 years, which meant a lot of sorting, packing and cleaning, but we’re very happy with the move. Some sad news, we recently lost Mr Puth, construction supervisor for almost 10 years. He contributed so much to the development of the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary and is missed by the entire team.
Like so many of our friends, family and supporters, we’re doing our best to deal with the challenges of COVID-19 by remaining positive, hopeful and patient. Our team in Cambodia has been doing a great job to keep the bears well cared for, always with smiles on faces. All of this is only possible thanks to you, thank you for your support!


Despite how eerily quiet Laos has been since closure of the borders, our team has been extremely busy - the past 6 months have flown by! After a long and cool winter, summer has hit with full force, with days regularly reaching 40 degrees. Thankfully, a small amount of rain from February to April prevented our lakes from drying and we’re expecting the wet season rains to arrive in the coming days.

Over the past year we’ve seen many bear cubs illegally for sale on social media (a potential side effect of COVID as people turn to the forest for income). Only one cub was tracked down and intercepted (the others disappeared before they could be found), a tiny male moon bear named Rupert, rescued in March. We’d planned to rescue another 2 moon bear cubs however the rescue has had to be postponed as Laos has gone into lockdown after suffering the first major outbreak of COVID since the pandemic started. In April we rescued an endangered Indochinese grey langur with terrible wounds and a critically endangered Sunda pangolin.

Over the past 6 months our construction team has been hard at work on Bear Houses 5 and 6 at the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. Bear House 5 reached completion at the end of February, allowing a group of 9 female moon bears to move up from Bear House 1 where they had been temporarily housed. The girls are loving their new home, taking special delight climbing (and destroying) the trees of the forested enclosure. The expected completion of Bear House 6 in May will allow for a bunch of bear moves. After record numbers of rescues over the past few years, many of which were cubs, these new facilities can’t come soon enough. The group of 3 rescued female sun bears (including Mary Christmas) have moved to Bear House 1, which has been specially refurbished for the world’s most arboreal bear species, full of aerial walkways and climbing platforms. Moon bear cubs Bertie, Boo, Bun Bun and Meowsers have moved up from the cub nursery at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre to a larger training enclosure, providing them more space to play as they rapidly grow.

Prior to this week’s lockdown there had been no COVID restrictions within Laos, allowing us to proceed with various education activities. In December the British Embassy in Vientiane hosted a gorgeous outdoor screening of BBC’s Bears About the House, which was very well received. We’ve held 15 Team Spirit Days, educating hundreds of staff from hospitals and the tourism sector about wildlife issues and the work of Free the Bears. Last month’s rescue of an endangered langur was a direct result of one of our Team Spirit Days - it’s very satisfying to see our education efforts paying off.

In February our first group of Laos volunteers enjoyed a week caring for bears at our Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. The group of teachers from Vientiane thoroughly enjoyed their time with the bears (and we appreciated the extra hands). We’re looking forward to welcoming more volunteers to Laos once COVID travel restrictions are lifted.

Following a government inspection of the sanctuary in January we received very positive feedback from government partners at a Laos wildlife conference in February, an encouraging sign.

Sadly we lost three moon bears this year - Morris Moonbeam, Teddy and Damm. Morris was the heaviest bear we’ve ever rescued (272kg) and blind when rescued in 2011. A slimmer and healthier Morris had cataract surgery to restore vision in 2019. His last year seemed to be the happiest of his life.

Despite the challenges of the past 6 months and new lockdown restrictions, we’ve managed to achieve a lot this year. This is only possible thanks to the amazing support you’ve given us throughout these tough times. Our heartfelt thanks. Please stay healthy and safe. We hope to see you in Laos soon!  


In March we received news of a sick male moon bear called Misha. We were told he’d been caged for over 20 years and had stopped eating days prior. Although a day’s drive away, our Vietnam Programme Manager Mr Dung immediately left to investigate. What he found was worse than expected. Misha was in a cage swaying back and forth (a stress behaviour), foaming at the mouth with broken teeth and open wounds. Despite a very poor prognosis, we couldn’t just leave him there. We immediately arranged a rescue and the team arrived on March 17. After the owner refused to hand him over for 7 hours, we were finally able to release Misha from his prison and transport him to the sanctuary. Over the following days our expert vet and bear care team provided Misha with a quiet, safe space and the best possible care. He was given treats bears love, likely for the first time in his life. You could almost sense his relief. Despite our best efforts, Misha couldn’t hold on. Sadly, he passed away peacefully in his sleep the next week. Even a few days of dignity and relief from suffering was better than Misha having to spend another minute in his former prison. Thanks for your support to allow rescues like this to take place.

Misha was the last caged bear in Vinh Long province, bringing us one step closer to ending the suffering of bears in Vietnam. The remaining bears in bile farms have been caged for over 16 years (the law came into effect in 2005 but bears owned before then could be kept). Over the past months we’ve been visiting other provinces, imploring owners to release the bears and allow them to enjoy a decent life with proper care at our sanctuaries for their remaining years. Hopefully some of the owners will show compassion and hand the bears over.

In recent months our construction team have made great progress on Bear House 4. The main structure is almost complete and looking great. Once done we can move to the fencing and enclosures. Completion of this bear house will allow for even more bile farm rescues to take place. Thanks to Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V (WTG) and Marchig Animal Welfare Trust. Our team have also been creating waste water treatment areas and a well was sunk to supply water to existing bear houses as well as supply our future Discovery Centre where we’ll host volunteers, groups and tours to learn about the bears, wildlife conservation and our work.

There have been relatively few COVID cases in Vietnam over the past year, with just a few outbreaks quickly contained. Between lockdowns we were able to conduct several fun and valuable Team Spirit Days with students and tour guides from the areas surrounding the Cat Tien National Park as well as staff from the park. Everyone loved learning about the bears, as well as helping maintain enclosures and prepare enrichment treats for the dozens of rescued sun bears and moon bears in our care. Two members of our Vietnam team, Bich and Ha, attended a Women In Conservation conference hosted by Vietnamese NGO WildAct (who also funded the rescue of Misha). Huge thanks to WildAct for your support of the bears and efforts to protect Vietnam’s wildlife.

Although we’ve had a lack of tourists and volunteers to the sanctuary in the past year, we recently received a very unusual visitor. A female wild elephant emerged from the jungle on several occasions. While we were thrilled to see her, an elephant can do a lot of damage when foraging for food, requiring additional security and monitoring. Her visit highlights the incredible wildlife to be found in Cat Tien National Park - we also recently photographed a sun bear with a camera trap. Visitors may also see wild gibbons, langurs, macaques, leopard cats, various species of deer, civets, crocodiles, porcupine and an amazing array of birds. We hope you’ll visit us as a volunteer once we can travel again! Stay safe and thanks again for your support.

Feeling a little caged the past year? Spare a thought for the sun bears and moon bears that have spent years (sometimes decades) locked in tiny cages, starved and mutilated for bile extraction. How long would you last in a cage? We’re asking supporters to spend just one ‘Night In A Cage’ to raise awareness of the suffering of bears and raise funds to rescue and care for bears in need.

Last November over 80 supporters participated in our Walk to Free the Bears challenge and last May over 50 bear lovers spent a 'Night In A Cage'. Thank you so much everyone! These amazing efforts raised awareness as well as funds to feed 240 rescued bears for over 3 months, a massive help to Free the Bears after losing so many of our fundraising sources to COVID-19. In 2021 we're hoping even more supporters will be willing to join. It's very easy! Register at OR go to the Events page of our website (, then SHARE your fundraising page.

You can make a 'cage' out of anything - a cardboard box, an aviary, a tent, a dog crate, even blankets over the dining table! Many of us will spend our Night In A Cage on Sat May 29th, however you can choose a day that suits you. It doesn't matter how much you raise (although you might be surprised how many friends will be willing to donate to see you in a cage), the important thing is that you'll also be raising awareness of bears trapped in bear bile farms & the illegal wildlife trade.

Our founder, Perth grandmother Mary Hutton, has shown us that we all have the power to make a difference. Here's your chance to help make a difference! Mary will also be spending a Night In A Cage on May 29. Please sponsor Mary by clicking here

We welcome new arrivals with open arms whilst shedding a tear for those we lose. With heavy hearts we’ve said goodbye to Cairo, Teddy, Morris Moonbeam, Damm & Misha. We’ve welcomed 1 bear cub into our family since November. BREAKING NEWS: 2 new bear cubs rescued as Bears' Print went to print. Watch here.