We're incredibly grateful to everyone for your support during these difficult times. Read about our latest achievements in our new Bears' Print newsletter, with updates from the sanctuaries and a special message from Free the Bears founder Dr Mary Hutton. Read or download the full newsletter by clicking here or highlights below.
MESSAGE FROM MARY
Dear Supporters and Friends, Greetings to everyone in the Free the Bears family, I truly hope you are healthy and safe. Over the years we’ve all faced many difficult challenges - in the 25 years Free the Bears has been protecting and rescuing bears, we certainly have had our fair share. As the years go by, the troubles of the past seem to fade away and we can look back more fondly on the challenges which were presented to us, proud of what we were able to achieve in the face of adversity. I’m sure you’ll agree that we can label 2020 as a rather challenging year. But we’ll persevere. Which brings me to my message for this newsletter, a message of thanks. Everything Free the Bears has achieved, every challenge we’ve faced and conquered, every bear we’ve rescued, everything Free the Bears is, is thanks to the support and help of our Free the Bears family, it’s thanks to you.
I remember back in 1993 after having seen bears in bile farms on television, when I was standing outside a shopping centre with a sheet of paper and a clipboard feeling like a fool, total strangers approached me to discuss the plight of the bears and sign a petition to Free the Bears. Thank you.
In the early days of Free the Bears there were just a few of us muddling along trying to come up with ways to raise awareness about the bile farms and funds to help the bears. We tried everything - movie nights, quiz nights, bake sales, garage sales. Without each other’s support, we couldn’t have done it and wouldn’t be where we are today. Thank you
When in the 1990s we were asked to help rescue sun bear cubs from Cambodian restaurants where they were menu items, we were only able to secure their freedom and provide them a safe future as a result of help received from supporters, politicians, the media and zoos. Thank you.
We were contacted in 2002 to help the sloth bears of India, who for centuries had been forced to beg on the streets and ‘dance’ when rope threaded through their sensitive noses was pulled. Our supporters raised millions of dollars, enabling the bears to be rescued to sanctuaries and alternative livelihoods created for the Kalander gypsy tribe who had been forcing the bears to ‘dance’ for generations, finally ending this cruel practice forever. Thank you.
As we built sanctuaries in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, rescuing hundreds of bears from a life of misery, there were many, many obstacles along the way. Our Bear Care teams in each country have done such a tremendous job building world-class sanctuaries where our rescued bears receive the best possible care. Our dedicated state support groups in Australia have constantly raised awareness and funds over the past 25 years. We’ve received support from donors around the world as well as governments, foundations and zoos, without which we couldn’t have expanded the sanctuaries or developed our Veterinary, Research, Awareness, Communications and Education programmes. Thank you.
Over the past 25 years we’ve achieved a lot. Almost 1,000 bears have been rescued, the Indian dancing bear practice is gone and bear bile farming in Vietnam and Laos may soon end. But while there are bears in need, we have more to do. Despite the many problems and challenges we’ve faced this year, your overwhelming support and many beautiful messages makes me confident that I’ll be able to fondly look back on 2020. For that I offer you my heartfelt thanks. Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday season and a New Year filled with happiness. With much love and bear hugs, Mary
On September 1 late in the evening Cambodia Rescue #211 arrived into our care, our 4th bear rescue in Cambodia this year. A tiny female sun bear cub weighing only 5.5kg, she arrived in a truck FULL of wildlife confiscated from an illegal zoo, including civets, leopard cats, a gibbon, tortoises & more. She is recovering well under the expert care of Mr Heng, the world’s most experienced sun bear cub carer, and is now weighing a much healthier 14kg. She was the star of a recent Halloween video, not quite knowing what to make of a watermelon with a face. We have 5 more rescued sun bear cubs in the cub nursery, providing her with lots of future friends.
With 121 rescued (and destructive) bears in our care and some of our facilities decades old, we’re constantly needing to repair, renovate and upgrade the facilities at the Cambodia Bear Sanctuary. We recently renovated a roof and are currently replacing the roof of another of our 8 bear houses. We’ve also had to replace several water storage tanks, install and replace protective bamboo fencing around enclosures, and upgrade or construct new caves and climbing towers in both the cub nursery and enclosures. We’re also restoring and replacing educational and visitor areas while visitor numbers are down. We’re very much missing having volunteers around to help! In October we held a bear escape drill with the bear care team. Our government partners filmed the exercise and were so impressed they have asked our team to turn this into an annual training event to build skills within their wildlife care teams.
Due to COVID visitor numbers to the sanctuary have dropped substantially. A special Bear Care Tour attracted some local residents however border closures have effectively shut down the Volunteer Programme for the moment, although we have lots of interest for 2021 which is a promising sign. We’re hoping that as we emerge from the pandemic there will be increased interest in safe and ethical travel away from crowded cities, which may benefit our Volunteer Programme. Please get in touch if you’re interested in an ethical holiday of a lifetime!
In September we received a Travellers Choice Award from TripAdvisor for our Bear Care Tour, placing it in the top 10% of experiences worldwide. Great work team! In October our Awareness, Communication and Education Team Manager Pesei and Volunteer Coordinator Jen presented to a virtual conference organised by our good friends at San Diego Zoo. The presentation was very well received, resulting in some generous donations - great work Pesei and Jen! While we have a break from visitors, the teams are also developing our education zones, including the Bear Discovery Centre, with a herbal medicine garden to highlight alternative treatments for conditions in which locals have claimed to use use bear bile.
We’re making good progress although it’s been a challenge testing which of the plants are monkey-proof! We’re also preparing for our Team Spirit workshops to teach about wildlife conservation, build partnerships and boost morale for the travel and tourism industry, which has been so badly effected by COVID. Our research team has many interesting projects underway. Survey implementation was delayed due to COVID, however the team are busy writing and editing research papers (with several to be published) as well as applying for grants for exciting new research studies to be implemented in the coming years. The Sun Bear Symposium scheduled for 2020, will be delayed until late 2021. We hope that all of our wonderful supporters as well as visitors and volunters, past and future, stay healthy and safe. Please enjoy your upcoming holidays, have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thank you for your support.
Laos has been under lockdown since April, borders are closed and the tourism industry devastated. The normally vibrant Luang Prabang is eerily quiet. Thankfully Laos has reported less than 2 dozen cases of COVID & no deaths however we fear the economic downturn is causing people to turn to the forest for income as we’ve seen a substantial increase in bear cubs illegally being sold on social media (sadly they’ve disappeared before our government partners could intercept any).
The good news is we’ve managed to rescued 4 moon bears over the past 6 months, a set of siblings in June, a female cub in July and a male cub in August (and we’re expecting more in the weeks ahead). Our specialist cub nursery at the Luang Prabang Widllife Sanctuary (LPWS) was completed just in time to receive the cubs, who are both recovering well, growing rapidly and constantly at play since becoming best friends.
It’s not only bears we’ve rescued in the past months. In July we rescued a critically endangered baby white-cheeked gibbon, covered in burns from touching power lines after escaping its captors, now well on the road to recovery. In August we rescued 2 critically endangered pangolins as well as dozens of tortoises and turtles, including Endangered and Vulnerable species. In September we were able to release the pangolins, several of the tortoise and two leopard cats (rescued earlier in the year) to protected forest, our second major release of rehabilitated wildlife - there’s no better feeling!
The wet season rains arrived in May, a great relief following a historic drought, turning the sanctuaries a stunning verdant green. While the rains have not been as prolific as we’d have liked, the dams at LPWS are filling and the breaks in rain have allowed us to proceed with construction of 2 new bear houses (Bear Houses 5 and 6), desperately needed following the influx of rescued cubs over the past few years. Once complete we hope to move straight on to Bear Houses 7 and 8 (pending funding), which when complete will allow our government partners to close more bear bile farms (without sanctuary space for rescued bears, bile farm closures cannot proceed).
The internal lockdown in Laos was relatively short, allowing our Education Team to recommence our “Discover, Love and Protect Laos Wildlife” initiative, teaching bamboo straw, paper making and bamboo construction alternative livelihood workshops to the villages surrounding the sanctuary, with Kids Clubs to educate youth about wildlife conservation. The team is currently hosting Team Spirit workshops for groups from the tourism industry and joined the Sustainable Tourism Solutions Expo, as well as completing a permaculture training course.
We were delighted by the overwhelmingly positive response to the BBC Docuseries Bears About the House, filmed over a year in Laos at our sanctuary and broadcast in the UK in July (other countries to follow). We even had our first ever live television interview when our CEO Matt joined British breakfast television from LPWS. Although it was tough having a film crew follow us for a year, the awareness created by the series, the surge of support for the bears and increased interest in visiting and volunteering at our sanctuaries made all the early mornings and late nights worthwhile. Everyone enjoyed our special Luang Prabang screening/fundraiser and we have more planned for the capital, Vientiane, early next year.
In June and July we hosted our government partners at LPWS, followed by visits from the USA, Singapore, Australia and British ambassadors in September, a great opportunity to showcase the progress we’ve made at the sanctuaries as well as develop valuable relationships.
We truly miss visits from our supporters and hope to soon see you in Laos. In the meantime please stay healthy and safe, wishing everyone all the best for a happy holiday season and new year.
On October 1 we rescued 2 female moon bears which had been caged on a bile farm for over 18 years. Both bears were in poor condition with one missing her front left paw. They are recovering at our Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre and having just passed quarantine now have access to the outdoor enclosure. It was heartwarming this week to see them touching ground for the first time in decades, sniffing their way around the enclosure, digging holes and tentatively dipping into the pool for what is probably their first ever swim. Their journey of rehabilitation will be long but they are already well on the way. They were the last 2 bears in bile farms in Lam Dong province, bringing us one step closer to seeing an end to bear bile farming in Vietnam. The owner, who was caught selling bear paws, is now in prison.
Development of the sanctuary has slowed due to wet season deluges although we’ve managed to get electricity connected as well as build some necessary roads, thanks to a grant from Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V (WTG). It’s such a joy to have something as simple as a reliable electricity supply - now we can have a freezer to make ice block enrichments for the bears! Over the past months we’ve been improving paths around the enclosures as well as installing educational signs, in preparation for future visitors on Bear Care Tours, Volunteers and school groups. We’re also progressing sustainability initiatives with water and compost projects in development.
Our next major project, which we’re currently fundraising for, will be construction of Bear House 4. Additional sanctuary space will allow us to rescue bears remaining in bile farms, most of which have been stranded there since the national audit in 2006. In the next year we hope to rescue all the bears remaining in bile farms in 4 surrounding provinces. We also hope to progress our Education Centre, already partially funded from grants. This will serve a vital role in creating awareness amongst Vietnamese of the need to protect bears and other wildlife, as well as drive changes in attitudes and behaviour towards consumption and use of wildlife.
Despite the travel restrictions due to COVID lockdowns, visitors are beginning to return. In July our Education Team welcomed a group of school students from the surrounding villages to learn about bears and wildlife conservation. We now have a partnership with the British International School in Ho Chi Minh City, who have already raised valuable funds for hammocks and enrichment for the bears. In July we received our first local volunteers, a mother and daughter who spent a week at the sanctuary helping prepare food, building and installing bamboo fencing, weaving hammocks and creating enrichment treats. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience and we can’t wait to have more volunteers visit us.
Last month our Bear Care Team learnt valuable new skills while visiting Cuc Phuong National Park’s Endangered Primate Research Centre and Turtle Conservation Centre, as well as Save Vietnam’s Wildlife and Four Paws rescue centres in north Vietnam, as part of a training course funded by the Vietnamese government. A special thank you to Nga and Nu, valued staff members who are moving on due to family reasons, and welcome to Ha, our newest member of the Bear Care Team.
Nobody could have predicted the challenges of 2020. Despite all the difficulties we’re very proud to have rescued another 4 bears from bile farms, each of which had spent more than 18 years tortured in tiny cages. As most of the bears we rescue have suffered years or even decades in bile farms, they are elderly and often have health issues, requiring extra special care. We’re incredibly grateful for the support you’ve given, and continue to give, in support of our efforts to rescue bears from bile farms, care for them, and end bear bile farming. Thank you, wishing you a happy and safe holiday season.
Please join our WALK to FREE THE BEARS to help raise awareness & funds to rescue bears from bile farms. It’s easy! Decide on a challenge (e.g. walk, run or ride), SIGN UP & SHARE your fundraising page. You'll be surprised how many friends & family will want to help. Mary Hutton & supporters from all over the world are completing challenges throughout November. As Mary has shown us, we all have the power to make a difference but it requires us to act. Learn more at www.freethebears.org/pages/events
Thank you to everyone who purchased tickets for our 2020 Australia-wide raffle. Congratulations to our winners: 1st prize - K Christopher, South Australia; 2nd prize - K Talianis, New South Wales; 3rd prize - G Hillman, Western Australia NEW CALENDAR & CARDS!
Our 2021 calendar celebrates 2 gorgeous Marys close to our hearts, Mary Hutton & Mary Christmas the sun bear. Our new christmas cards feaures six of our star sponsor bears. We have limited stock available so order yours today!