Bears' Print Newsletter May 2022
Please enjoy our bi-annual newsletter featuring achievements of the Free the Bears family we can all be proud of. Read or download the full newsletter by clicking here or highlights below.
MESSAGE FROM MARY
Dear Supporters and Friends, Greetings to everyone in our Free the Bears family. What a start to 2022 it’s been. In the second week of January we had bear rescues in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the same week, the first time in our 27 year history that we’ve had simultaneous rescues across three countries! Since our last newsletter in November you’ve helped us rescue another seven endangered bears from disastrous situations. They’re all receiving the very best loving care in the sanctuaries you’ve helped build, with world-class veterinary care, healthy diets, comfortable bear houses and beautiful forest enclosures full of swimming pools, caves, hammocks and climbing platforms. We can already see the difference in their heaIth and behaviour - from sick, malnourished, stressed and timid to gorgeous, healthy, confident and playful bears. I’m so proud each time I see the effect we have on the rescued bears.
Our dedicated teams at the bear sanctuaries have been working tirelessly. Like all of us they’ve been effected by the pandemic, with many contracting Covid in recent months. Thankfully, nobody suffered serious illness and all have recovered. Despite the challenges, everyone has achieved so much in the past six months, with sanctuary renovations, expansions and new bear houses built in all three countries. These facilities wlll improve the lives of the bears in our care as well as allow for more rescues.
Our Vietnam team will soon be visiting nine bear bile farms in southern Vietnam with our government partners. It’s shocking to think that the bears in these farms have been suffering in cages for over 17 years (farmers were allowed to keep any bears already in their possession when a 2005 law came into effect). We’ll be doing everything we can to persuade the farmers to release the bears so they can live out their final years free from pain and suffering at our beautiful Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary. If we are successful, this will bring Vietnam one step closer to seeing an end to bear bile farming forever. It’s been a long and hard fight with many obstacles and challenges over the years and often it was difficult to imagine we’d ever see an end to bear bile farming in Vietnam. However, it was also inconceivable to stop fighting while knowing there were bears still suffering in the farms. Thanks to your support, I never lost hope. When the news eventually comes through that the last bear in Vietnam has been rescued from the bile farms, what a relief it will be. I’ll likely shed a tear of joy, have a cup of tea to celebrate and then get back to helping more bears. It will certainly be a day we can all celebrate as you’ve all played such an important role in tackling the despicable practice of bear bile farming and for that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
In order to rescue the bears remaining in bile farms in Vietnam we’re going to need help. Which is why on May 14th I will be spending another night in my made up cage in the lounge, trying not to think about the cramped conditions, but remembering the images we have recently seen of little cubs and adult bears kept in dreadful conditions in prison-like cages. Since our last Night In A Cage fundraiser in May 2021 we rescued 23 bears. I hope you will sponsor me (or one of the other participants), or join our fundraiser, or become a Bear Carer, to help raise the vital funds required to bring more bears to freedom and help end bear bile farming in Vietnam forever. Visit our website Events page for details.
Free the Bears recently turned 27. Due to Covid we didn’t have a chance to celebrate, but with more bile farm closures we’ll soon have a very good reason to celebrate, I’m sure of it. Thanks for your support. Bear hugs, Mary
UPDATE FROM CAMBODIA
In the second week of January we had another shocking rescue. Cambodia Rescue #216 is an adult female sun bear that was found with her paw trapped in a wire snare trap in the forest. The wound was so severe she required emergency surgery and tragically ended up losing her entire limb. Even more concerning was the fact she was missing most of a back paw as well as a claw on her other front paw as a result of previous snare traps from which she had managed to escape (both old wounds had healed over). She is healing well however is incredibly traumatised and her rehabilitation will be a long and difficult process (with no chance of release, requiring lifelong care). This is the 4th bear in a row we’ve rescued that had horrific snare wounds - Cambodia Rescue #215 also required her limb to be amputated due to the extent of her wounds and Cambodia Rescues #213 and #214 arrived into our care already missing paws. All 3 were cubs. This adds to the many bears already in our care missing paws due to snare traps, which are destroying wildlife populations across the world. We truly hope that governments can better tackle this issue with increased laws, penalties and enforcement.
Our recent completion of Bear Houses 4A and 7A has provided lovely new homes for several adult male moon bears and freed up space to allow cubs to move from the Stage 2 Cub Nursery to forest enclosures. We never know how bears will react to a new environment, some are confident whereas others may take days to work up the courage to venture out. We were pleased to see the bears embrace their new homes, excitedly exploring the new smells of the forest followed by a refreshing swim in a new pool or nap in a hammock. A Biosecurity House is under construction, located beside Bear House 8, which contains our hopefully soon-to-be complete Research Centre on the 2nd floor (commenced 2014!). Special thanks to San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for donating a new and much-needed vehicle. Cambodia has relaxed all Covid restrictions and the country is now fully open to foreign visitors. We’re seeing an immediate impact. We’ve been able to recommence our Education Programme with over 150 students from an international school visiting in January. Bear Care Tours by international visitors have already picked up. International researchers were finally able to enter Cambodia to continue fascinating research into the metabolic rates of bears. We were able to assist visitors from Rotary International with their annual bicycle donation to communities in need, postponed for years due to Covid. And most importantly, two new staff members and our vet team were finally able to enter Cambodia.
Welcome to our new Volunteer Coordinator, Tawny. Volunteers are currently welcome back to the sanctuary (some are already arriving) and Tawny would love to hear from you if you are interested, email email@example.com. A warm welcome to our new vet Alejandra who arrived in February. She was joined in April for several weeks by visiting vet team Fiona and Kirsty, who brought a new x-ray unit (thanks to Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Primrose Trust and Fondation Brigitte Bardot for funding this vital piece of equipment). The vet team had a busy month completing dozens of health checks. Thanks to Kirsty, who after contributing so much to the bears over the years, is moving on to pursue other interests - we wish her the very best for the future.
Our research team was involved in the release of multiple papers over the past six months (if you would like to read, please check our website under Publications) with more research into consumer behaviour, wild bear populations, hunter behaviour and traditional healers in the pipeline.
It certainly has been a difficult couple of years. Most of our team recently contracted Covid - thankfully everyone has recovered. There appears to finally be some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re hanging in there, and we hope you are also. hope to see you in Cambodia in the future. Thanks for your support.
UPDATE FROM LAOS
This year we’ve already rescued four more bears from a lifetime of misery, giving them a second chance at a decent life. In early January a male sun bear cub was seen wandering along a busy highway, likely an orphaned cub that had escaped or was dumped after being traded into the illegal wildlife trade. Thankfully a kind passer-by was brave enough to capture the cub and hand him to our government partners. In February we learnt of two orphaned moon bear cubs being kept in a cage close to the Laos capital, Vientiane, and our rescue team swung into action. The cubs are supposedly brother and sister however the male was almost twice the size of the dehydrated and malnourished female. In March our government partners learnt of a female moon bear caged for six years not far from our sanctuary and we were able to rescue her within a day, an uncommon event as most rescues involve at least a day’s drive through dangerous mountain passes. All four bears have made great progress in their recovery and rehabilitation at our Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary (LPWS).
With all the recently rescued cubs rapidly outgrowing the cub nursery, we’ve accelerated construction of Bear House 7, now well on the way to completion (although a steel shortage as a result of Covid is hampering progress). In recent times we’ve also managed to complete beautiful new enclosures for other rescued wildlife, a one-eyed slow loris and one-eyed leopard cat (both disabled due to injuries sustained prior to rescue), a critically endangered white-cheeked gibbon and a Malayan porcupine. All the animals appear to be enjoying their new homes. Planning for a much-needed Primate House 3 for rescued macaques is underway. At our Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, upgrades and renovations have taken place with beautiful new bright and airy dens installed in Bear House 1, built way back in 2010. The bears love their new dens. Pools, fencing and climbing platforms have been renovated and we’re about to start repairs on the pathways in the hope they’ll receive visitors in the coming months (Laos is about to open to visitors again). We’re also putting the finishing touches on a facility to house visiting experts and government partners (for training) at LPWS.
Brand new (and very cute) wooden volunteer bungalows have been built at LPWS in anticipation of the country opening - we can’t wait to have our first ever intake of volunteers helping at the sanctuary (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book your ethical holiday of a lifetime helping care for the bears). Our final constuction project currently underway, which we’re very excited about, is our Pre-Release Stage 1 facility, the first step in a long-term project aiming to release bears back to suitable protected forest. The facility will be used to isolate and observe potential release candidates.
Senior government officials from various agencies paid a visit to our sanctuaries in December as part of a 3 year review of our project. We were delighted to receive very positive feedback and are proud of the strong partnership we have with the Laos government. Congratulations and thank you to our hard-working team for doing such a great job. We were also visited by the US Ambassador to Laos on World Wildlife Day, who then recognised our efforts in an Earth Day message.
We recently opened a new office in a great location in Luang Prabang, certain to help generate awareness of the issues faced by bears and promote our work to visiting tourists once they start flowing back to beautiful Luang Prabang. In the coming months we’ll set out for our third ever release to protected forest of rehabilitated wildlife, a really exciting event for us (and the animals) which recharges the batteries and reminds us just how worthwhile all the hard work is. Of course we’re expecting more bear rescues and can’t wait to set out for the next rescue in our new rescue vehicle, donated by San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Thanks to SDZWA and a huge thanks to all of our donors and supporters for continuing to support our work. We hope to see you in Luang Prabang soon!
UPDATE FROM VIETNAM
We’ve had a hectic six months in Vietnam, with lots of challenges but even more achievements we’re very proud of. In late November we rescued Pooh, a young male sun bear kept in a cage on the roof of a house as a ‘pet’. He’s already graduated quarantine and moved to a forest enclosure which he is absolutely loving. It’s so wonderful to be see him exhibit natural behaviours, digging and foraging and just generally being a bear. In January we rescued a female moon bear that had been caged in a bile farm for over 18 years. She wasn’t in very good shape, overweight with lots of injuries and callouses from being mutilated, fed a poor diet and rubbing against iron bars for decades. She’s already in better shape and has made a new friend in quarantine, a female bear rescued from a bile farm last October. In the coming weeks we'll visit 9 bear bile farms in southern Vietnam with our government partners to assess the health of the bears & try to convince owners to hand the bears over & allow them to live out their remaining years at our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary, free from fear, suffering & pain.
The recent completion of Bear House 4 has led to a flurry of activity, with bears moved from the old Bear Rescue Centre into a beautiful new bear house with lush forest enclosures. The bears, all rescued from bear bile farms, are delighted. The moves allowed for much-needed renovations of the old Bear Rescue Centre as well as freeing up space to allow for more future rescues. Special thanks to our supporters, Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V. (WTG) & Marchig Animal Welfare Trust.
Bear House 1A is currently under construction. It will feature enclosures specially designed for the needs of geriatric bears rescued from bile farms. With the borders open, a vet team were able to visit in April and conduct health checks on many of the older bears, a long overdue exercise that has greatly helped with the care of these bears, some of which will move to Bear House 1A (special thanks to the vet team).
Besides bear houses and education centres, our construction team have been hard at work making the sanctuary as eco-friendly as possible, with new wetlands to treat waste water, green roofs for bear houses and solar panels.
Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, visitors are flocking back to Cat Tien National Park. They’ll soon be able to enjoy our new Bear Discovery Centre, a place to learn about the issues bears face and what can be done to help. The centre looks amazing (great work team), with only the internal signage left to complete. Our Volunteer Programme is active again and we’ve already had a group from Vietnam with volunteers from overseas arriving soon (please visit, you won’t regret it).
We have a cute new Free the Bears buggy, to be used for staff transport, volunteers and visitors. In conjunction with the Cat Tien National Park, new educational rest areas were installed.
Almost all of our team were struck down with Covid in recent months. Thankfully, everyone has recovered. Huge thanks to our team who worked so hard putting in the extra effort when team members were away. This month we bid farewell to a valued team member, Bich, who is moving overseas. Thanks Bich and best of luck. The recent vet visit was also likely the last visit (although we hope not) of our vet advisor Kirsty, whose level of commitment and contribution to Free the Bears over many years has been extraordinary. Kirsty has made such a difference to the lives of so many bears. Thanks for everything and best of luck in the future!
Around 300 bears remain in bile farms in Vietnam. They’ve been there at least 17 years (since a 2005 law outlawing the extraction of bile but allowing farmers to keep the bears) and they’re rapidly dying. With more sanctuary space available, we’re working closely with government partners to visit farms and try to convince owners to hand over bears, before it’s too late. Your support is so vital to the success of these rescues. Thank you, we hope to have good news of more rescues soon.