Bears' Print May 2024

Please enjoy our brand new Bears' Print newsletter with news of rescues, developments at our sanctuaries, education and research initiatives, fabulous fundraising events and an inspiring message from our CEO Matt Hunt. Read or download the full newsletter by clicking here or highlights below.


As we entered 2024 I suspected the year ahead might hold a few surprises - if I had a dollar for every time I've said that I hoped things might be calmer next year I would be a wealthy man indeed! With Mary's retirement after 28 years at the helm of Free the Bears, plus several new initiatives being launched across our field programmes as we continued to emerge from the impacts of the COVID pandemic, it seemed likely that 2024 would contain the inevitable mixture of fresh challenges, hard- fought victories and long days that characterize life on the frontline of fighting the illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia, plus perhaps a few additional surprises? However, I don't think anything could have prepared us for the shock of hearing that 16 tiny bear cubs had been discovered by the Environmental Police in a raid on a business premises in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos.

As our team started gathering everything that they might need to keep such vulnerable bear cubs alive - milk formula, baby bottles with a range of teat sizes, hot water bottles, towels and as many sky-kennels as we could find at short notice - my mind immediately went to the broader impact of such a rescue. Where had these cubs come from and what was the traders intention for them? Where would we be able to keep such a large number of cubs this week, next month and in six months time? How long could wild bear populations survive such an onslaught? And how long could we ourselves continue to handle such a deluge of new arrivals, each in need of specialist care potentially beyond my lifetime? One thing I did know, we had to get those cubs into our care as quickly as possible, and I reassured myself that even if we could never be entirely ready for such a large number of cubs, we were certainly better prepared on that day than we had ever been before in almost three decades of bear rescues!

The weeks since the arrival of these 16 cubs (plus a further 5 bears rescued since that day in late March) have embodied the very best of Free the Bears. Our team in Laos - many of whom only saw their first bottle-reared bear cub last year - have made me so proud with their dedication and commitment, starting work early and finishing late without complaint. They have been supported by our wonderful team in Cambodia, who immediately offered to send Vanny and Heng to lend a hand during those crucial early weeks. And our international partners have rallied around, reaching out to ask how they can help and sending whatever we need - be this an extra pair of hands or a box of enrichment toys and everything in between! I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to all of our supporters who reached out to us to see how they could help, and of course all of those who helped with an extra donation towards the care of the cubs. These acts of kindness remind us of how lucky we are to be able to help these bears, without your help the fate of each of these cubs could have been so utterly unthinkable. I also want to give a special shout-out and thanks to everyone who took part or supported us in this years Night In A Cage challenge. Thanks to your generosity, we raised over $65,000 in desperately-needed funds to support the continued care of almost 300 rescued bears in our sanctuaries across Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

As we mark our 29th year, I draw strength from the progress we've made and remain committed to creating a brighter future for bears. Thank you, once again, for your kind support, we couldn't do this without you.

Love and bear hugs,

Matt Hunt


It's been over a year since we've had a rescue, one of the longest periods in our 29 years without a Cambodian bear rescue. It's difficult to know whether this is due to better public knowledge of the laws and expanded enforcement, less hunting and/or demand from a developing population, more sophisticated techniques used by criminal networks to illegally trade bears and bear parts, or even a collapse of wild bear populations. Most likely all of these factors play a role. Regardless, a bear rescue could happen at any moment and our dedicated team are ready to jump into action and help any bear in need, to join the 118 bears currently under our care at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary.

With such a large population to care for, our animal care and operations teams are constantly busy. We've been expanding sanctuary facilities to cope with growing cubs rescued in recent years and we're thrilled to announce that our new Bear House 9 is now complete and ready for bears.

Nestled within serene surroundings, Bear House 9 is a beautiful home for rescued bears, featuring cool dens with hammocks and spacious forest habitats designed to meet the needs of growing cubs, special-needs bears and older males. The first inhabitants, 3 young female moon bears who all lost a paw or limb to wire snare trap injuries, will be moving to the new house in the coming days. We can't wait to see them exploring their beautiful new home.

Our construction team have moved directly on to upgrading walkways, enclosure furniture, our Cub Nursery and the Wildlife Hospital, which has been busy with health checks by our Cambodian vet team (welcome Srey Lin to the team), joined by consulting vet Dr Ana. Comprehensive health checks are crucial to ensuring the wellbeing of the bears under our care. During a health check the vets have a large list to cover, checking the condition of the body, coat, paws, claws, teeth, eyes and ears and internal checks using ultrasound and x-rays. They also take hair and blood samples for testing, monitoring and to databank for future research. Sadly, we bid farewell to sun bear Holly, after 16 years of expert loving care.

Our ACE team has been busy with Bear Care Tours and education initiatives to raise awareness and foster a deeper understanding of wildlife conservation. Over the past 6 months we've hosted hundreds of students of all ages from local and international schools, including visitors from Singapore and Australia, as well as local universities. We hope to inspire them to become future wildlife warriors and contribute to protecting endangered species including sun bears and moon bears.

Our research team has notched up more achievements. Researcher Thona, who is sadly leaving us after 8 years, had a paper on the use of bear parts in Khmer traditional medicine published in the Cambodian Journal of Natural History. Chiara is managing an interesting macaque release project in Laos which provides rehabilitated macaques a chance to live free in the forest and trains community rangers to protect the forest. She's also developing a project to study a sun bear living close to a community in northern Cambodia (to potentially relocate the bear if necessary, for its own protection). We've welcomed researcher Zack to the team, to collect data on the recently rescued cubs in Laos, conduct behavioural observation studies on the bears trialling our prerelease facilities, and to analyse and write up papers based on research and data we've collected. These research projects are vital to enhance our understanding of sun bears and moon bears, two of the world's least studied bear species.

Our Bear Carers Vanny and Mr Heng recently visited Laos to help care for the dozens of rescued bear cubs, vets Dr Sorphea and Dr Meng joined a CITES Youth Leadership event in Singapore and we were proud to watch Thona and Sorphea feature in ABC Australia's Project Wild program, following a visit from ABC. Thank you for your kind support.


So much has happened in Laos over the past 6 months, it's difficult to know where to start! Last December we rescued a juvenile orphaned female moon bear, followed in February by 2 more juvenile moon bears, brothers. Just a month later we received a distressing call from our government partners who had raided a business operated by a Chinese national in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. They found 17 tiny moon bear cubs inside. Tragically, one cub had already passed away. In a monumental team effort, we were able to collect the 16 cubs, the single largest ever rescue of endangered bear cubs worldwide. Just 2-3 months old and weighing between 1.3 and 4kg, the 10 male and 6 female cubs required emergency round-the clock care, including 6 bottle feeds a day. Despite our best efforts, one cub very sadly passed away soon after. It is believed the cubs were 'ordered' from poachers in the north of Laos and intended for a new illegal bear bile farm. We're not sure how many mother bears must have been killed to acquire so many young cubs (a mother bear would never willingly leave her cub). One person has been arrested and investigations are continuing in attempts to prevent this from happening again.

Just 2 days after the 16 cubs arrived, our government partners confiscated another 2 tiny male cubs in the north of Laos. We could never have imagined that 18 cubs would arrive into our care at once and needed to bring in additional help - members of our cub care team from Cambodia and others from around the world. Despite the tragic ordeal the cubs have suffered, they're thriving, gaining in strength, weight and confidence as each day passes. In April, another 2 male moon bear cubs, brothers around 7 months old, were rescued. And in early May we freed a juvenile female sun bear from a small dirty cage where she'd spent almost a year. This brings the total number of rescues in Laos in the past 6 months to 24 bears, far exceeding our previous annual record of 18 (and we're not ever half way through the year), placing enormous pressure not only on our animal care team, but also our construction and operations teams, who are rushing to complete new Bear Houses 8 & 9 (for the rapidly growing cubs rescued in recent years), as well as other facilities. A powerful storm on May 1 caused damage to various facilities and destroyed our beautiful bamboo Discovery Centre, adding to the workload of our team.

It's not only bears we've helped over the past 6 months, we've also rescued porcupines, macaques and a pangolin (most of which were released to protected forest after rehabilitation) and we're progressing a release project for macaques, which involves training and employing community rangers to patrol the forest. We've proudly completed more Education and Awareness initiatives including 9 weeks of Nature Clubs teaching appreciation of nature and conservation to children from the surrounding villages, and 5 Wildlife Care workshops for government partners from every province. These 2 week residential courses cover wildlife conservation, rescue techniques & primary care of endangered species, empowering them to achieve better outcomes when tackling wildlife crime. We've signed a partnership with the National University of Laos to teach Wildlife Medicine modules to vet students and we've sponsored agricultural training classes for villages in the surrounding community. Several of our staff were able to attend valuable courses in conservation planning and communications.

We were delighted to welcome to the sanctuary both the UK and US (acting) Ambassadors to Laos, and Project Moon Bear, who are fighting to rescue bears from bile farms in Korea. Welcome to our new Laos vet Bounsy and special thanks to Vet Support Officer, Jacqui, for 2 years of help under the Australian Volunteers Program. It's been a really tough last few months for us in Laos, we'd like to say a very special thank you to our incredible team, to those who have visited to lend a hand, and of course a huge thank you to everyone who helps Free the Bears - without your ongoing support we wouldn't be able to rescue and help so many bears in need. Thank you!


As you may be aware, the end of bear bile farming in Vietnam is close. It is estimated there are under 200 elderly bears left in bear bile facilities in Vietnam, down from 4,300 in 2005 when laws were enacted to prohibit bear bile extraction and an audit was conducted (sadly, in 2005 there was nowhere to relocate the bears and farmers were allowed to keep them). In the 19 years since the new law was passed, less than 400 bears have been rescued from the farms to sanctuaries (around 3,700 have died in the farms). The remaining 200 bears have been caged so long and are so badly treated that they are rapidly dying. The problem we face is that farmers have to willingly hand over the bears. We regularly visit the farms with our government partners, showing pictures and videos of our sanctuary, inviting farmers to visit our sanctuary and urging them to show some compassion and allow the bears to live out their final years at the sanctuary. Over the past 6 months we've visited more farms and seen shocking conditions. Unfortunately, no farmers agreed to hand over bears - some claim that the bear/s are loved and cared for pets/family members (they do not see it as a welfare issue that the bear has been confined to a small cage for decades) and it's possible some wish to monetise the bear (dead or alive), despite this being illegal. Regardless, we'll continue to visit and try to convince farmers to release bears. We remain hopeful that some farmers may change their minds.

In the meantime, our dedicated team has been working hard to enrich the lives of the bears in our care, upgrading habitats to encourage natural behaviours such as digging, climbing and nesting, which not only improves the wellbeing of the bears bu also improves their overall health. New climbing platforms have been built and the Bear Care Team has been developing and trialing new types of enrichment puzzles, with the help of Volunteers. The response from the bears has been exciting to watch, we're seeing the bears very engaged, displaying climbing, exploring and foraging behaviours we hadn't seen in some bears, a pleasing result. Besides improving habitats, our construction team has kept busy with general repairs and the rebuild of the quarantine facility at our original Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre, which looks beautiful. 

We were pleased to recently welcome vets Dr Ana and Dr Sorphea from Cambodia and vet nurse Jacqui from Laos, who completed full health checks on several bears. We were also delighted to welcome volunteers to the sanctuary in December and January, hosting a wonderful bunch of kind bear carers who pitched in to help care for the bears and maintain the sanctuary. Thanks to Amy and welcome to our new Volunteer Coordinator, Tyler. Our Volunteer Programme operates from June 2, 2024 to July 28, 2024 and December 1, 2024 to January 26, 2025. If you are interested in an ethical adventure holiday of a lifetime, please contact Tyler on for more information.

Our team in Vietnam recently completed a valuable First Aid training course and our sanctuary manager, Thuong, along with two bear carers, completed a course on primary veterinary care for rescued wildlife. Thuong also attended the World Wildlife Day Regional Youth Symposium in Singapore along with staff from Cambodia and Laos, a great opportunity to learn, network and promote the work of Free the Bears to a broader community of young conservationists.

We're continuing to raise awareness about the plight of the bears and the importance of conservation, welcoming 96 students from a Ho Chi Minh City international school, followed by another 184 students shortly after, with more in the months to come, providing them with an educational and immersive experience at the sanctuary. It's great to see more international tourists visiting the Cat Tien National Park and joining us for Bear Care Tours (please visit, we'd love for you to see our beautiful bear sanctuary). Thank you for your kind support of Free the Bears, all of our achievements are only as a result of your kind ongoing support. Thank you.


Our Volunteer Programme is now based at our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam. Located within the stunning Cat Tien National Park, we'd love for you to visit 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 as well as 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 sanctuary.

The Cat Tien National Park is a nature lover's paradise with more than 1,600 species of plants and home to a rich array of wildlife. It's very likely that during your visit you will see wild gibbons, muntjac and sambar deer, monkeys, civet cats and porcupine, many of which are endangered species. Cat Tien is a renowned bird-watching hotspot with countless colourful birds including the majestic hornbill. Take a night safari and you'll meet new and unusual nocturnal species.

Volunteering is available during fixed periods, from June 2, 2024, to July 28, 2024 and December 1, 2024 to January 26, 2025. We only have limited spaces available so please get in touch soon - what are you waiting for? Email us at for more information.



Without the courage and actions of our founder Dr Mary Hutton OAM, over 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 WelttierschutzgeselIschaft e.V. (WTG), Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, Mandai Nature, AsiaWild, RZSS, Fondation Brigitte Bardot, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Brown Bear Coffee, the Gita Bellin Legacy Fund, the Mrs DM France-Hayhurst Foundation and the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund for support.


Free the Bears has been a beacon of hope for countless bears for decades. Every day we strive to rescue more bears from a life of suffering in 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 to our sanctuaries.

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

Your gift can take many forms, all offer hope to endangered bears. Having an up-to-date will is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your wishes are fulfilled while protecting the rights of your loved ones. After providing for your loved ones, 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 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 or jewellery etc to be transferred to Free the Bears from your estate.
  • 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 type of bequest keeps its value over the years.
We understand that making a will is a very personal matter and we encourage 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 (please follow the legal requirements of your country). The organisation Gathered Here allows our Australian supporters to create a will online at no charge. There's no obligation to include a gift, it's up to you, you can write a will with Gathered Here using this link:
For inquiries, please email Our details in Australia: Free the Bears Ltd, PO Box 1393, Osborne Park DC, Perth, Western Australia, 6916. Tel: +61 (08) 9244 1096. Charity number: A1004507U and for UK supporters, please use these details: Free the Bears UK, PO Box 6395, Basildon, Essex, SS14 ONY. Charity Number: 1135682. 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 BUDDY. 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. Thank you.