Gratitude to Sarah, a vet from New Zealand who works at Animals Asia’s bear rescue centre in Tam Dao, about 1.5 hours from Hanoi, for this blog post. The rescue centre is mostly closed to the public but has 2 open days a month where you can go and explore the area and see the wonderful work that Animals Asia are doing. It is a great trip to do, and one we at See you at Lily’s hostel and travel highly recommend. Enjoy the blog…
Moon bear Isis and Joey
Nestled in a lush valley in Tam Dao National Park lies a sanctuary for rescued bears. Around 160 moon and sun bears, saved from lives of misery, live here in peace and tranquillity at Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre.
These bears have mostly been rescued from the bear bile industry. The practice of keeping live bears to extract the bile from their gall bladders for a natural medicine has been made illegal in Vietnam, but sadly still persists. A loophole in the law allows bears to be kept as pets, if they were captured before the law changed. While owners must promise never to extract bile, the reality is extraction continues behind closed doors and around 1,000 bears continue to suffer in captivity.
Farmed bears are kept in tiny cages with little or no stimulation. Nutrition is often lacking, the bears being fed little more than a gruel mixture and sometimes scraps. If they are poached as cubs they lack the appropriate nutrients to grow properly. Bears are known to be extremely intelligent and a lack of stimulation leads to psychological damage which becomes manifest in repetitive actions. Sometimes these can be so severe that the bears damage themselves by repeatedly rubbing their heads on bars or walls.
A cage that housed 2 bears
Bears on bile farms have been known to be starved, while dehydration and disease is common. The bile from these sick bears often contains blood, pus, faeces, urine, bacteria and cancer cells, all of which will be ingested by the unsuspecting users of the medicine. Despite the availability of inexpensive and effective herbal and synthetic alternatives – and the dangers of consuming bile from sick bears – demand continues.
This is why Animals Asia’s work to end the bile industry and rescue long-suffering bears is so important. At the rescue centre in Tam Dao, life-long care is provided to help these animals recover from their unimaginable pasts.
Caring for such damaged animals is a huge task. Many are disabled having lost limbs being trapped in the wild, while others have psychological issues through years of captivity.
A recovered bear, sleeping in the sunshine
Many of them have to remember simply how to be bears again. How to play with their own kind, or carry out natural behaviours like climbing.
Moon bear Chau, rescued in 2016 is only now learning how to climb down a short ladder from the raised sleeping basket in her den.
Dorle, a Sun bear
To help these broken bears recover, they are integrated with a community of other bear farm survivors. These integrations take a lot of planning and thought; bears must be observed for their behaviour and fit with the other bears in the sanctuary, food portions must be increased so as to limit competition for food during integrations, timing must be considered – bears are seasonal creatures and this has to be taken into account. Once all the planning and observations have finished the integrations are often a joy to behold. To see two bears that have suffered years alone in tiny cages finally get to meet another bear, to finally have a playmate, is such an honour.
Sun bears Nelson and David, playing
Once vets have corrected long-standing and painful conditions and a bear has been integrated with their new playmates, they can begin to enjoy the rest of their lives. But keeping so many bears happy and stimulated is in itself very hard work. Our bear carers provide a great life for these bears, and are the ones observing them and getting to know their likes, dislikes, friends and playmates. They provide enrichment for the bears to keep them stimulated, and our bear team supervisors are always thinking of fun, outside of the box ways to encourage the bears to play and explore.
The bears have access to large grassy enclosure full of play structures and it is here that they forage every day for their food. Visitors to the sanctuary are welcome twice a month to watch these beautiful, playful animals enjoying their new lives.
For a schedule of visiting days, follow this link:
Those who make the journey to the foothills of Tam Dao National Park, which the bears call home, can enjoy the serenity of the countryside and participate in a guided tour to watch these incredible, awe-inspiring bears play, forage, wrestle, swim, be silly, sit on swings, sleep and generally be at peace with themselves.
Manga, a moon bear
I am constantly amazed when I watch the bears. They have suffered so much, yet with time, love and patience they have come to trust and have joy in their lives again. It is such an important gift we can give these bears, and I encourage everyone to visit and find out how you can help.
For more information about bear bile farming please see the link below: