Bears' Print November 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. We’ve had a busy 6 months with lots of positive achievements. Many more bears have been rescued from a life of suffering, our sanctuaries have expanded and we’ve grown our team, now numbering over 100 kind and dedicated staff spread across four countries and including animal care specialists, veterinarians, field biologists, social scientists, environmental educators and many more – all committed to our mission of protecting, preserving and enriching the lives of bears across Asia.

We’re expanding efforts to protect wild bear populations and an end to bear bile farming in Vietnam is firmly in sight. We’re hosting groups of Laos Forestry Department officials who are embedded at our Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary for 2 week intensive workshops learning about care of endangered wildlife and we’ve been able to present a second wildlife medicine course to veterinary students at the Univeristy of Laos. It’s vital to involve local communities in conservation efforts and we’re continuing to expand our community engagement and education initiatives. We have so much to be proud of.

I’ve now reached an age where it is time for me to step back from Free the Bears. I am most grateful for the past 28 years since the charity’s inception in 1995. I sincerely appreciate the opportunities I have had, the contacts I have created and, most importantly, I am proud of the tremendous progress that we have accomplished together through the years.

From a personal point of view, Free the Bears means so much more to me than just rescuing bears. It has been a journey, meeting so many wonderful, kind and generous people. The generosity shown to Free the Bears has been overwhelming and it is only with this compassion and such devotion that we have been able to rescue so many bears and build amazing sanctuaries for them across Southeast Asia.

Over the years, the friends I have made are more than just friends, they are lifelong friends, some of whom I have known from teenage years to grown up years, having children of their own, and, I have been honoured to have their own children named after me (and a few bears along the way as well).

I’m retiring from Free the Bears knowing the charity is in the very capable hands of Matt Hunt, our CEO, and the dedicated members of the board. I know Free the Bears will continue to rescue more bears, build new sanctuaries, help preserve wild bears, educate the world about the plight of endangered bears, help local communities, and work closely with the governments of the countries we operate in. Free the Bears will always be a part of my life, and I can retire with an easy mind.

On October 29th we held our annual lunch at the Fremantle Yacht Club in Perth, a spectacular venue for a beautiful event attended by more than 130 of our lovely Free the Bears family members. Our Patron, Rove McManus, gave a heartfelt speech and Alex Cearns was the perfect MC. There was lots of fuss over my retirement (I would have been happy with a cup of tea and a piece of cake in the office) - I was truly honoured and humbled by the lovely words and kind wishes.

I would sincerely like to thank everybody who works for the bears - our overseas staff, all our branches across Australia and everyone who has helped at home and abroad, and the lovely ladies in the Perth office. I’d also like to thank YOU, our incredible supporters, without which none of our achievements would have been possible. Thank you for this wonderful, challenging and rewarding journey we’ve taken together.

“Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much”

Love and Bear Hugs, Mary


Several months ago we were notified of a sun bear caught in a wire snare trap in a forest of southern Cambodia. Our team sprung into action, driving through the night on difficult roads. Sadly, the bear passed away from trauma just before our team arrived. He was yet another victim of the terrible scourge of wire snares, a cheap and difficult-to-police method of poaching that indiscriminately traps any animal unfortunate enough to walk by and trigger the traps on forest trails. Snares are decimating wildlife populations across the world. Although no new bears were rescued by our government partners in the past 6 months, we’ve been kept more than busy caring for the 119 rescued bears currently in our care. One of our most well-known bears, golden moon bear Brandy, was struck down with an infected wound that took several months to heal. Thankfully, our beautiful old girl has fully recovered. Young Cambodia Rescue #217, a cub rescued late last year who is serving as a test subject for our new Prerelease Stage 1 facility, is doing very well and retains a wariness of humans, vital for survival in the wild. We’re still unsure as to whether he will qualify for release, but in the meantime he’s providing lots of valuable data and learnings. Following upgrades to bear houses and habitats, several bears were moved to new habitats. They are thoroughly enjoying their new forest homes. We sadly bid farewell to moon bear Zelda who passed away due to illness.

Our new Bear House 9 has made impressive progress, the bear house is almost complete, as are most of the forest habitats, with swimming pools and climbing platforms already installed. We hope to have everything completed by January, after which many bears will be moved to new homes, which will relieve some pressures brought about by rapidly growing young bears and moody teenage males that no longer get on. Also, our group of disabled young female moon bears that are living in the Quarantine House will receive a new forest home. We can’t wait to get the bears moved and watch their excited reactions. While our Cub Nursery is empty (a situation we haven’t experienced in decades), we’ll take the opportunity to renovate and make improvements to the building.

Our ACE (Awareness, Communication & Education) team have been busy in recent months, hosting local groups of primary and high school students and groups of students from the UK. More tourists are returning to Cambodia which has resulted in more happy Bear Care Tour participants. While we miss the smiling faces and extra helping hands of volunteers, we’re happy to hear that everyone is loving the new opportunity to volunteer at our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam.

There’s lots of exciting news from our research team. They’ve been to the north of Cambodia to study a sun bear that’s been raiding crops. They’ve managed to catch images on a camera trap and we’ll continue to study the bear to determine if it may need to be relocated for its own safety. Senior Cambodian Researcher, Thona, presented at a National Geographic Explorer Spotlight event in Hong Kong and has submitted a paper to the Cambodian Journal of Natural History. We’ve welcomed Chiara to the team as a Technical Advisor to progress our macaque and bear release initiatives. She’s already spent several nights in the forests of Laos scouting macaque release sites and we hope to progress this project in the coming months. Our UK Support Coordinator, Judy, who recently visited us in Laos, is progressing a research study about sun bear reproductive hormones, and PhD candidate, Zack, is utilising the wealth of data we have on sun bears to help better understand this little-known species.

We recently enjoyed a visit from our new Chief Financial Officer, Linda, who was a huge help to our team, helping train and implement new finance systems. We also had a visit from vet Amanda who worked tirelessly with the vet team to complete dozens of health checks over a 2 week period. Thank you for your kind support of endangered bears.


Another 6 months has flown by in Laos with rescues, sanctuary expansions, education and training initatives, VIP visitors, exploratory trips into the forest, wildlife releases and the addition of new team members, all keeping us busy. In May we rescued another tiny & terrified orphaned cub, Laos Rescue #120, from Luang Prabang town, after factory workers alerted us they had seen a bear cub. Two months later we received another traumatised young male moon bear that had been spotted in a tree in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We suspect both cubs had escaped captors during or after being sold or smuggled (their mothers likely killed by poachers), as there’s no chance young bear cubs would be found in urban centres. Both cubs took time to build their confidence & strength, helped by Morris, a cub rescued in March, who’s been a great big brother. In March we also rescued a female moon bear that had been kept in a small cage for 16 years and then in August and September we rescued juvenile male and female moon bears from tiny cages. All bears are recovering well with the latest rescue becoming the first ever resident of the new Quarantine House we recently completed. The 3 young cubs are living in our Stage 1 Prerelease house, involving a different method of care with minimal exposure to humans. This will help us to test our facilities and procedures as part of a long-term project to help prevent the extinction of wild bear populations by releasing suitable bear candidates to protected areas identified as having depleted bears populations (although these cubs are unlikely to be release candidates).

In recent months we completed our Prerelease Stage 2 facility. Similar to Stage 1, bears are cared for with minimal to no human exposure, with the bears having access to a large patch of semi-wild forest to help them better learn about living in the wild. Two young bears are living in the facility and we are closely monitoring their progress. Our constuction team is busy working on a new education facility and have broken ground on Bear Houses 8 and 9, which are desperately needed as the many cubs rescued over the past few years rapidly outgrow their cub nurseries. Our Stage 1 Cub Nursery has been renovated, water management facilities and restrooms added, solar power systems installed and storm damage repaired. At our original Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre (opened 20 years ago), we’re creating new education and visitor experience facilities using sustainable bamboo constructions.

We’re at the tail end of a very wet rainy season, the sanctuaries are looking incredible and the weather is beginning to cool as winter approaches. Several months ago we released rehabilitated turtles, tortoise and a pangolin to protected forest and our team spent several nights hiking deep into the forest to survey release sites for a future macaque release. Sadly, we bid farewell to beloved bear Ninh due to age-related illness.

We’re proud of the many education initiaitives recently completed. Our bear care team enjoyed safety and first aid training courses and senior staff completed an animal welfare workshop. A large group of Laos officials from the Illegal Wildlife Trade training group visited to learn about our work, we presented another WIldlife Medicine training course to vet students from the National University, Ambassadors from several countries visited the sanctuary and a group of British students were the 1st ever residents of our new on-site accommodation, soon to be used by Laos government officials for 2 week training workshops. Our CEO Matt gave a presentation at a regional wildlife medicine conference in Korea and visited moon bear restoration projects, before heading to Perth to join a celebration to bid farewell to our founder Dr Mary Hutton OAM, who is sadly retiring. We’ve welcomed back Luke, who will be helping all sanctuaries improve animal care and operating systems, and our new Chief Financial Officer, Linda, visited to help improve our finance systems. A special thanks to Jozef who has moved on to take on new challenges. Thank you for your support.


Our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary is flourishing after a very wet rainy season, which at one point caused the river beside the national park to overflow its banks and flood the road to the sanctuary - thankfully, only for a short time and the bears were not effected. The sanctuary is looking incredible, every shade of green you can possibly imagine, with lots of new growth drawing in insect life, providing hours of foraging fun for the bears. The rain also provides a welcome relief from the heat and we notice the bears are more active. Our original Bear Rescue Centre, located at the park HQ centre, has been temporarily closed for renovations. We moved several recent rescues who were living there to our new sanctuary located further inside the park, taking the opportunity to integrate the bears into new groups, which has gone very well with many happy bears enjoying new friends and forest habitats. Whilst the renovations at the old centre (used as a quarantine centre for new rescues) take place, we are also continuing to try to convince bile farm owners to hand over bears that have been caged for at least 18 years (a 2005 law prohibited taking bears from the wild but allowed people who already had bears in cages to keep them). We haven’t had much luck in recent months, but, while bears remain in cages on the farms, we’ll persevere in our efforts to rescue the bears.

We were devastated to recently lose 3 elderly bears due to age- related health issues. Lucy and Sao were beautiful, gentle moon bears rescued in 2009 and 2012. Dambri was a handsome male sun bear rescued in 2014. We’re proud to have provided them with so many years of loving, expert care, all thanks to your support.

Our new Vietnam Volunteer Experiences commenced in June and July, which was a lot of fun for all involved. Volunteers helped with bear care and enrichment as well as sanctuary maintenance. The feedback was very positive and we can’t wait to do it again in December and January - a huge thank you to the dozens of volunteers who spent a week or more helping us care for the bears. Interested in an ethical adventure holiday of a lifetime? Please email

Whilst we wait for approval to continue construction of bear houses at our new sanctuary, our team has been upgrading facilities with new climbing platforms and ramps installed, new roofs for improved protection and security, additional biogas facilities to generate gas from waste, and tree trimming of the larger trees which may have posed a risk to bears and fencing.

We’ve welcomed several new bear carers to our team (following the retirement of several staff), 2 of whom are female, as well as a new maintenance officer (welcome Hoang, Tai, Tien, Xuân, Phuong and Trang) and Amy from the UK has recently joined us to help with Volunteer Experiences and husbandry. Our team recently attended a workshop to learn about gender-based violence and safeguarding, topics rarely discussed in Vietnam. It was a great experience - we’re proud of our efforts to promote gender equity at Free the Bears. We also hosted an education trip for the children of our team.

Vet Amanda visited from Laos last month with vet nurse Jacqui, along with specialist wildlife vet Dr Joost Philippa and local vet Dr Diem, to conduct health checks on some of the elderly bears. It was a tough week for the vets - years of torture in bile farms have led to many complex health issues in the bears, requiring extra-special care. Huge thanks to the vet team for their hard work helping these beautiful old bears.

Bear bile farming in Vietnam will soon be no more, which will be a cause for celebration. Sadly, however, this is because the numbers of bears remaining in bile farms in Vietnam (around 200) are rapidly declining as the bears die from old age and illness. While even a single bear remains caged, we’ll try to convince owners to hand them over. Thank you for your support.



Volunteer Experiences are now available at our Cat Tien Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam. Located within the stunning Cat Tien National Park, 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 with more than 1,600 species of plants and home to a rich array of wildlife. You’ll likely 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 to see new and unusual nocturnal species. Volunteering is available during fixed periods. We currently have spaces still available for the weeks of December 24 or December 31, 2023 and January 28, 2024, and then again from June 2, 2024 - July 28, 2024, and Dec 1, 2024 - Jan 26, 2025. 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, Asia Wild 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.

We’ve partnered with the organisation Gathered Here to allow our Australian supporters to create a will online at no charge, with unlimited updates. There’s no obligation to include a gift in your will. It’s entirely up to you and you can write a will via Gathered Here regardless - here is the website link to allow you to do this;

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.