Bears' Print May 2023

Please enjoy our bi-annual newsletter featuring achievements of the Free the Bears family we can all be proud of, including details of our amazing 18 bears rescued in the past 6 months. Read or download the full newsletter by clicking here or highlights below.


Dear Supporters and Friends,

Greetings to everyone in our Free the Bears family. I’ve just completed my Night In A Cage so I’d firstly like to thank all the many generous bear lovers who sponsored me. It was the most uncomfortable night! I couldn’t stretch out, tossed and turned every minute, ran out of pain killers, moaned and groaned and felt sorry for myself but it was the thought of many generous friends who sponsored me, and the suffering of the bears who are still living in those dreadful cages, that kept me in the cage for the night.

Every time we find another bear in a cage, it’s a reminder of why our efforts are so important. And every time we achieve a success with our government partners, rescuing a bear from a lifetime of misery and seeing that bear go on to live a happy and healthy life, free in the forest at our sanctuaries, is a confirmation of why it’s worth the effort. The pictures above show just some of the bears you’ve helped rescue in the past 6 months since our last newsletter. You can almost feel how proud everyone is to be helping the bears.

Towards the end of last year we rescued bears in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos within the same week, only the second time in our 28 years that this has happened. What a great effort by our government partners and our dedicated teams. Earlier this year we rescued more bears, including orphaned cubs in Laos and the last caged bear in Long An Province in Vietnam, after years trying to secure the release of this bear, bringing Vietnam one step closer to ending bear bile farming forever.

We’ve also made wonderful progress in bear care. Dr Claudia Hartley, a Trustee for Free the Bears UK and one of the world’s leading wildlife opthalmologists, very kindly gave up 2 weeks of her time to visit all of our sanctuaries in a whirlwind visit that saw her check the eyes of 28 bears as she rushed from country to country, with barely a minute to catch her breath. Thank you Claudia. We were also visited in Cambodia by specialist veterinary surgeons and dentists. Not only did they help the bears, they also provided invaluable training and skills to our local veterinary teams. We’ve recently presented the first ever Wildlife Medicine module for vet students at the National University of Laos.

Education plays such an important role in the conservation of endangered species. Our Awareness, Communications and Education teams have been hard at work, educating school and university students and the public about wildlife conservation. We’ve recently trained women from 6 villages in Laos about wildlife issues & alternative livelihoods, presented our work at a World Wildlife Day event, shared knowledge with a team from Korea who hope to help bears in Korean bile farms, hosted senior government officials from Vietnam, Laos & Thailand with the prospect of future training workshops, held a workshop discussing potential future bear releases, and hosted visiting veterinary, husbandry & construction specialists who helped build the skills of our local teams.

As each year passes we’ve been able to gradually increase our capacity to tackle the many issues that need to be addressed in order to protect, rescue and care for endangered sun bears and moon bears, which fills me with hope. While we seem to have achieved an awful lot, there’s still much more to do. I hope you’ll stick with us and continue to support the bears throughout these tough times as we’re making such great progress. This is our 28th year and I’ve never been more hopeful that we’ll soon see an end to bear bile farming in Vietnam forever.

Thank you, once again, for your kind support of the bears, we couldn’t do this without you. Love and bear hugs, Mary


Towards the end of 2022 we rescued a male sun bear cub estimated to be 8-9 months old. He was quite wild, indicating he had only recently been taken from the forest (his mother likely killed by poachers) and had experienced little human contact. This made him a good first candidate to join the release project we’ve recently commenced, which we hope will give suitable candidates a chance to live in the wild (rather than spend their entire life in the sanctuary) while helping restore wild bear populations in protected national parks. This project will also increase knowledge and understanding of the species and help prevent their extinction in the wild. Cambodia Rescue #217 will require a very different rehabilitation to the other rescued bears. He’ll live in our recently completed Stage 1 Prerelease facility, with minimal to no human contact, where he’ll be able to develop natural behaviours and survival skills. So far he’s doing very well. At this point we’re unsure whether he will go on to be released but, he’s already playing an important role in ensuring the survival of his species.

We’ve had a busy 6 months with many visitors to the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary, including visits by 3 veterinary specialists. In late 2022 Dr Joost Philippa visited to help with complex surgeries. In January wildlife opthalmologist and Free the Bears UK Trustee, Dr Claudia Hartley, conducted eye examinations on 11 bears during their health checks, including much-loved bears Brandy, Kong and Blue. In March a visit by wildlife dentists Dr Cedric Tutt & Dr Serena Oh helped with the complex dental issues of several bears. Not only were these visits of great benefit to the bears, they also provided great training opportunities to our veterinary team.

Our Awareness, Communication & Education Team have also been kept busy, with hundreds of students from local schools located in the districts surrounding the sanctuary visiting to learn about bears, the environment and wildlife conservation. We hosted Environmental Studies undergraduate students from a local university as well as high school students from local and international private schools (which helps fund our local education initiatives). We even hosted a local company for a bear-themed team-building workshop.

For several months around the new year our Bear Care Tours were very busy as Cambodia once again became a popular tourist destination. We’ve loved having volunteers helping out back at the sanctuary up until March (volunteering has now moved to Vietnam). It was also great to have staff from other sanctuaries (Dr Meng and Neth from Laos, Thuong, Trang and Amy from Vietnam) visit to share skills and experience.

We’re very proud that our research team has had another paper published, a fascinating look at the impact of Covid-19 on the behaviour of hunters. They’re also progressing a project which will attempt to change the attitudes and behaviours of people who use bear bile in rural Cambodia.

In terms of sanctuary developments, we were able to complete much-needed renovations of the Wildlife Hospital as well as renovations of enclosures in several bear houses. With all the rapidly growing cubs rescued over the past few years more space will be needed very soon and we’ve committed to building a new Bear House 9, which will break ground later this month and we hope to have completed before the end of the year.

Recently we sadly lost beloved bears Jon and Rose. Jon was partially blind from maltreatment before being rescued in 2006. When Rose & her brother James were rescued in 2009, both cubs had terrible injuries from snares and being hog-tied, resulting in Rose losing a paw. Thanks to your support, they enjoyed decades of loving care, thank you. We’re also very sad to say goodbye to our Volunteer Coordinator Tawny and our Senior Vet Ale, who are moving on to take on new challenges. Both ladies made a great contribution to Free the Bears and will be missed, we wish them the best of luck in the future. Thanks for your ongoing support of the bears.


In late November we rescued a female sun bear that had been kept as a ‘pet’ in a cage for 5 years from the Laos capital, Vientiane. She’s recovered very well, recently joining Mary’s group and is loving her new sun bear friends. In January we rescued a pair of orphaned moon bear siblings, a brother and sister. The cubs were in quite good condition and have flourished since arriving into our care, recently joining a group of slightly older cubs in the Stage 2 Cub Nursery. In March we rescued the smallest moon bear we’ve seen in many years. Laos Rescue #119, named Morris, was only 2.7kg. Cubs this small are extremely vulnerable, we weren’t sure he would survive. However, Morris is a fighter and with expert loving care he’s thrived. Now weighing over 8kg, he’s stronger, more confident and very playful. Each day his carer Miss Phet takes him for climbing and foraging lessons, just as his mother would. In the past 6 months our Laos government partners have asked us to help with other animals - we’ve rescued 4 monkeys of 3 species, 2 of which are endangered, 2 different tortoise species (both endangered) as well as a jackal and a critically endangered pangolin, who we discovered was pregnant when she had her health check. All are recovering well and we hope to release some of these back to protected forest in the coming months.

Construction seems a constant at our new Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary, as we struggle to build new facilities to cope with the many bear rescues and rapidly growing cubs. We’re currently doubling the size of our Quarantine House and have almost completed the Prerelease Stage 2 facility, part of a long-term project investigating the potential to reintroduce bears to suitable protected areas. New solar-powered security lighting has been installed throughout the sanctuary, our Base Station 2 facility for training is almost complete and we’ve broken ground on a new education facility. Construction of Bear House 8 has been temporarily placed on hold, we’ll soon need to get back to it, along with Bear House 9. At our original Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre we’ve continued renovation of pathways and bear houses which are looking great for the many tourists which have arrived back to Laos.

Following a lovely cool winter during which Bears About the House featured in a local film festival, we endured several very hot & dry months. The wet season has just announced it's arrival with powerful wind storms, causing lots of damage to the sanctuaries. Thankfully, no animals or humans suffered any injuries and the damage won’t be too costly to repair. Torrential rains followed the wind, a very welcome relief.

We’ve had a steady stream of visitors. Wild Welfare from the UK helped build the skills of our team with a great workshop on animal welfare, our UK Patron Dr Claudia Hartley visited to inspect the eyes of several bears and share skills with our vet team, helped by our UK Support Group coordinator (and vet nurse) Judy, skilled volunteer Rab, a blacksmith from Edinburgh Zoo, created new designs and shared construction techniques with the team, while Amy from the UK shared her enrichment expertise with the animal care team. We’re incredibly proud of our vet team for hosting final year vet students from the National University of Laos in the 1st ever Wildlife Medicine module taught in Laos, we hosted groups of female villagers from the surrounding area for some very successful livelihood workshops, and we had several visits from our government partners to inspect the progress of our project and present it to officials from the Thailand Department of National Parks, with the prospect of future training workshops for government staff. We were also thrilled to have visits from strategic partners including Bears In Mind, Wildlife HQ, Gabriella from the Bear Specialist Group, Patrick from Sun Bear Outreach and Jackie from GFAS. We sadly bid farewell to vet Marta, who had been helping keep the animals healthy for the past 2 years. It’s been another whirlwind 6 months. The progress we’re making on many fronts is so exciting and fills us with hope for the future, thanks for your support.


In late November we were able to rescue a female moon bear, the last remaining survivor of a bile farm which used to have many bears. She’d spent over 20 years locked up and tortured. Named Clairebear, she was in quite poor condition, a geriatric with wasted muscles, blind in both eyes. Despite her physical condition, she’s had a remarkable transformation since arriving into our care. Now that she feels safe and is receiving a healthy diet and treats, a bright and inquisitive personality has emerged. There’s nothing she loves more than foraging around her forest enclosure, taking long naps when she pleases, it’s so heartwarming to watch. In March we were able to finally collect a male moon bear we’d been fighting to rescue for years. This poor old boy had spent over 22 years in a bile farm, watching the other bears pass away around him. He was the very last caged bear in Long An Province, bringing Vietnam one step closer to ending bear bile farming forever. As with Clairebear he’s totally transformed since arriving into in our care. From a stressed bear who swayed back and forth in a cage, he’s now a beautiful, calm, gentle giant, thrilled with being able to touch the ground, smell plants and take a swim. Seeing these bears transform is so special, it makes all the tough times worth it. Thank you so much for helping us make this possible.

Although we had plans to expand the sanctuary and build new bear houses, we’ve been asked by the government to pause construction. We’ve taken the chance to renovate and repair some of the older facilities, improve fencing and security, install additional climbing towers for the bears and remove some trees that were threatening to topple over. We were also able to install a biogas system to process waste, as part of our efforts to minimise the environmental impact of the sanctuary.

In January we had a wonderful visit from one of the world’s leading wildlife opthalmologists, Dr Claudia Hartley, who was able to check the eyes of many of our elderly bears for the first time. Claudia found many issues, not surprising given the terrible trauma the bears have suffered in the bile farms. She may be back for more visits in the future. Claudia was joined by Judy Blythe, our UK Support Group Coordinator. Judy is also a vet nurse and kindly assisted with the health checks and stayed on to help us improve the Wildlife Hospital systems.

Late last year we were joined by animal care staff from various sanctuaries around Vietnam and the Wild Welfare team from the UK who presented a very useful animal welfare course. Conducted in Vietnamese, it allowed animal care staff from various levels to participate and benefit. In March we were also joined for a few days by a delightful team of committed young conservationists from Project Moon Bear and KARA from Korea, who are trying to rescue moon bears from bile farms in Korea and give them a second chance at life.

Our Sanctuary Manager Thuong and Vietnam Programme Manager Dung recently attended a wildlife care and release workshop in Hanoi. Welcome to our new Education Officer, Trang, who has already hosted school groups and tours. We’ve also taken on several new bear carers to replace older staff who’ve retired. Sadly, we bid farewell to Technical Advisor Ze who has been helping us for the last few years.

We’re very excited to be launching Volunteer Experiences at our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary, available in June/July and then December/January. Please visit us to help care for the bears for a week (or more), you will love it. You might even see the wild elephant that’s been visiting (as well as all sorts of wildlife). Amy has joined us to assist with our Volunteer Programme and animal husbandry, email her at

We’ve been visiting more bile farms, trying to convince farmers to release their bears. So far we haven’t had much luck, but there’s no way we’ll stop trying, you never know when an owner might change their mind, we never lose hope!


After decades based at our Cambodia Bear Sanctuary, our Volunteer Programme has now moved to our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam. Located within the stunning Cat Tien National Park, please visit us and help care for sun bears and moon bears rescued from bear bile farms and the illegal wildlife trade. You’ll help our local bear care team prepare and distribute food and enrichment treats, and assist with cleaning and maintenance including weaving and repairing bear hammocks. Not only is this an ethical holiday of a lifetime, your physical and financial contribution allows us to develop and improve the sanctuaries.

Our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary is located within the Cat Tien National Park, a nature lover’s paradise and home to a rich array of wildlife including many endangered species. You’re likely to spot wild gibbons, muntjac and sambar deer, various species of monkeys, civet cats and porcupine, many of which are endangered species. Cat Tien is a renowned bird-watching hotspot - you’ll spot countless species of colourful birds including the majestic hornbill. Take a night safari and you’ll meet new and unusual nocturnal species. The park is full of lush thick forest, containing more than 1,600 botanical species of plants.

Volunteering is available during fixed periods - from December 2023 through until January 2024. We only have limited spaces available, what are you waiting for? Email us at


Without the courage and actions of our founder Dr Mary Hutton OAM, almost 1,000 bears would be in a far worse situation. The bears we have rescued have been given expert loving care in beautiful sanctuaries and the lives of thousands of people throughout Asia and the rest of the world have been positively impacted. But Mary did not do this alone – along the journey she’s had an amazing support network of like-minded, caring, generous and loving supporters. Yes that’s YOU we’re talking about. Here are just some of the wonderful recent achievements. Thank you to everyone for your support.


Mostly funded by institutional donors, thanks to Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V. (WTG), the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation & Mandai Nature for ongoing support, as well as Primrose Trust, RZSS, Fondation Brigitte Bardot, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, the UK and Australian Embassies of Laos, AJN Steelstock Ltd, Brown Bear Coffee and the Illegal Wildlife Trade Fund for support. 


Free the Bears has been a beacon of hope for thousands of bears for decades. Every day our charity works towards rescuing more bears from a life of suffering inside bear bile farms and the illegal wildlife trade. As a result, the demands on Free the Bears grow with each passing year as an endless stream of rescued bears arrive at our sanctuaries.

At the very core of Free the Bears is the belief that the actions of individuals can make a difference to help ensure the survival of endangered bears. For many animal lovers, leaving a legacy and passing on something wonderful to the bears in our care and the future generations of bears we'll receive in the years to come is the greatest gift they’ll ever bestow. Gifts in wills have been vital to the survival of Free the Bears. Thanks to these gifts we've been able to rescue more bears & expand sanctuaries to provide the care they require.

Your gift can take many forms, all represent hope for endangered bears. Having an up-to-date will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your wishes will be carried through to protect the rights of your children and loved ones. After you have provided for loved ones, then you may like to consider including Free the Bears as a beneficiary. If you have already made a will, perhaps you could consider asking your solicitor to add a codicil, which will incorporate your gift to Free the Bears.

Types of Bequests: Cash or Pecuniary Bequest - a directive in your will that Free the Bears receive a specific amount from your estate. Specific Bequest - a directive in your will that specifies property, such as real estate, shares, art, jewellery etc be transferred to Free the Bears from your estate. A Residuary Bequest - after providing for your loved ones, Free the Bears will receive a percentage of your estate (for example, 5%). Since a Residuary Bequest is not for a specific amount of money, this sort of bequest keeps its value over the years. We understand that making a will is a very personal matter and we strongly advise you to consult a solicitor before drafting a new will or updating an existing one.

We are always happy to discuss your wishes and intentions but, regretfully, Free the Bears is unable to offer legal or financial advice (online resources are available). Don't forget to follow the legal requirements of your own country. If you have any questions, please email Our details (Australia): Free the Bears Ltd, PO Box 1393, Osborne Park DC, Perth, Western Australia, 6916. Tel: +61 (08) 9244 1096 Email: Charity number: A1004507U NOTE: We are registered in United Kingdom as Free the Bears UK (Charity Number :1135682). For supporters in the UK wishing to leave a bequest, please use this name and charity number. Thank you.


With increased rescues and limited protected forest for release, we’ll likely be providing our growing family of rescued bears with lifelong care, which can last up to 40 years. We desperately need help. PLEASE become a BEAR CARER monthly donor. For less than the cost of a coffee per week, you can become a BEAR CARER. Your donation will help provide food, vet care, enrichment & general care to hundreds of rescued bears. Please visit our website to become a BEAR CARER or contact our Perth office. Thank you.