years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
On Tuesday, 22 March we received an email from our Vietnam Director Tuan, letting us know that two small cubs they had been called to rescue in the central highlands of Vietnam were fairing well on day two of a three-day trip back to the Tam Dao rescue centre. The cubs were confiscated in Kon Tum province, located approximately 30km into the triangular border area of Vietnam, Lao, and Cambodia. Border guards acting on a tip off rescued them from the manager of a company contracted to plant rubber trees in Vietnam, who claimed he had found the cubs under a tree and taken them back to his on-site home. He is being charged with unauthorized keeping of endangered wildlife.
The authorities acted quickly and Dr Ha Cong Tuan from the Directorate of Forestry contacted Animals Asia, concerned because the cubs were so young and weak. They weighed only about 2 – 3kg and the border guards and local Forestry Protection Department (FPD) were not confident about looking after them.
Tuan and vet Kirsty left for Kon Tum, approximately 1,200km from Tam Dao, on Saturday afternoon and reached the border crossing in Sa Thay District on Sunday morning after their flight and an additional two and a half hour drive from Kon Tum town.
The border guards, together with local FPD officials, brought the cubs to the crossing as Tuan and Kirsty were not allowed into the border area. The cubs, one male and one female, weigh approximately 2.5kg each. The female cub, now nicknamed "Milo" was much more alert and a bit bigger than the male, called "Sean", but because of their size they both had to be hand-fed by Kirsty.
After the transfer it was back to Kon Tum FPD headquarters to finalise the hand-over, and meet up with the team driver and Dr The, our External Affairs Officer, to prepare for the trip back to the rescue centre.
The long journey back began late Sunday afternoon, with the team hoping to get back on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Tuan commented: “Overall it was our fastest rescue ever. With the intervention of Dr Tuan and very good cooperation from Kon Tum FPD and border guards we were able to rescue the cubs only six days after confiscation whereas it usually takes around two to three weeks to get through the paperwork. At present the cubs are doing well but fingers crossed that we will get them back safely.”
Meantime, back at the rescue centre, the bear team was working flat out to prepare for the cubs, readying their den and building a complete A-frame climbing structure together with swing – a fantastic, mini-replica of the big bear structures in the outdoor enclosures.
Happily the return journey was uneventful and the team and cubs arrived safely back on Wednesday 23 March.
Vet Kirsty sent a quick update on Milo and Sean shortly after arrival: “Both cubs are small and thin, but in relatively good health. It was a long, three-day road trip back to Tam Dao and these tiny, adorable cubs have coped with the stress of new people, the long car journey and their new home very well. They are slowly getting over their sugar addiction (they were fed condensed milk and honey by the people who confiscated them) and learning to drink puppy replacement formula. Neither of them are drinking 100% properly yet, but they are getting the hang of it.”
In between feeds Milo and Sean have lots of energy for playing - with each other and on the amazing furniture that the bear workers have made them. They also sleep a lot, curled up together. The team is monitoring them closely and trying to keep them as relaxed, happy and well-fed as possible, and so far so good.
Sean is shyer than his sister, and tends to sit back and think about things, and is more independent and deliberate in his play. He was very scared and angry at first, but did not take long at all to put his trust in Kirsty and his other new carers back at the rescue centre.
Today, they are essentially doing well. Neither is drinking as much as they should yet, so Kirsty is still cautious about giving them the all-clear, but they are both very bright and alert and play a lot in between feeding and sleeping.
Said Kirsty, “They are steadily gaining weight which is great - yesterday they both weighed in at 3.1kg. Their little characters are beginning to really show through – Miss Milo has been a bit of a madam from the start – definitely likes things to go her way, and doesn't give her little brother much peace. Sean is calmer and steadier, and patiently puts up with Milo terrorising him – and it is great to see him growing in confidence all the time.”
Sean and Milo love their first taste of browse – fresh forest leaves and grasses.
Spring is here and with it comes what we call in Vietnam “cub season” – when mothers are viciously killed and their cubs torn from their secure homes; when smugglers stuff cubs only weeks old into makeshift holds and attempt to transport them to bear farms and across the borders into Lao and China.
This is the time of year when unscrupulous farmers are willing to stock their farms with cubs who had only a very short time to enjoy life as they should, before being thrown into the dismal abyss of the bile farming industry.