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Double Bear House opens in Vietnam

The rain poured down, the guests flowed in, and our hearts soared as our beautiful Vietnam bears experienced the simple joy of walking on grass for the first time.

Like the weather, wild animals are unpredictable, and despite the skies turning a glorious blue shortly after the downpour, and a milling media pack eager to take photos, many of the residents of our splendid new bear house chose to stay inside their dens for much of the day.

It was the Opening of the first Double Bear House and Enclosures at our sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park near Hanoi last Thursday, and guests, including representatives from a number of foreign embassies, NGOs and government officials, were looking on.

At first, we were disappointed, because we were hoping our guests would have the chance to see all the bears at their frolicking best, lost in giddy play as they always are once they become confident enough in their grassy enclosures and the great outdoors.

Luckily, brave little juveniles Mischa and Olly in the moon bear enclosure and gentle David over in the sun bear enclosure were happy to take the limelight - tentatively strolling around their new home, (all the while keeping a wary eye on their adoring human visitors) and so coaxing a few other bears to come out. Here's Olly explring his new home:

These three kept everyone enthralled as they sniffed out treats hidden around the climbing enclosures, dipping their paws in the pool and soaking up the warm spring sunshine.

At one point all that five moon bears that have been “fence-trained” over the past few days, were seen scrambling around the enclosure furniture, eagerly sniffing out strawberry jam and pieces of fruit, before Mausi, Mara and Marmite grabbed some toys and browse enrichment and retired back to their dens to investigate their new finds.

It was enough simply to see these beautiful animals learning to be "bears" for the first time in their lives, and also seeing their den-mates safe and cosy in their hanging-basket beds – but best of all is that these bears are free to make the choice of whether to stay in their dens or go out.

Over the 10 years we've been working in Vietnam, we've faced many hurdles – some big, some small – but so far we've managed to scramble over them all. That’s because our organisation, like our sturdy new Double Bear House, is built on solid foundations.

The progress we’ve made has been amazing and there are many people I’d like to thank for that, not least of all you, our loyal supporters.

You’ve stuck by us through the tough times, making sure we have the funds and resources – both material, spiritual and emotional – to continue our work promoting change from within Asia’s developing countries.

Your support has already indirectly, but concretely, helped many bears and other animals in Vietnam and throughout Asia. I am truly grateful for that.

I must also thank our government partners, without whose trust and cooperation, our dream of a Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Vietnam would have remained just that – a dream.

Thanks also to those other NGOs, both local and international (WWF, WSPA, ENV, Blue Dragon, East meets West Foundation, ACRES), and the customs officials and environmental police who are working alongside us to protect the animals of this beautiful country.

Thanks to Wayne, Aaron, Chris, Peter and the whole team from Al Fresco’s group Vietnam, who so generously kept everyone fed and happy with the most amazing combination of Vietnamese and Western vegetarian food.

Other special guests made the day perfect too Hong Kong board member Joe Hancock, friends from our generous Italian office Carmen and Irene and long-time wonderful supporters Jo Politis and Richard Collins, who flew in from Australia to be with their sponsored bears, Jarvis and little cub Taurus.

And there are two wonderful women I cannot thank enough for helping to make the Opening of our Double Bear House and Enclosures last Thursday so special – actress Maggie Q, our Moon Bear Rescue Ambassador, Vietnam, and our dear friend and supporter, renowned primatologist Dr Dame Jane Goodall.

It was such a pleasure to be able to spend some time with Maggie, who so kindly accepted our invitation to attend the opening. She expected none of “the Hollywood star treatment” as she effortlessly "wowed!" everyone she met with her natural, easy charm – and her smile!

Maggie, whose Vietnamese heritage means so much to our campaign (and who has featured in the "Mission: Impossible" and "Die Hard" movies alongside the likes of Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis) recently squeezed into her busy schedule the making of a passionate new public service announcement about out Moon Bear Rescue in Vietnam. Naturally, we took the opportunity to launch it at the opening. A world premiere!

And here's some insider celebrity gossip – Maggie Q is as beautiful off-screen and as she is on, and inside as she is out!

We were thrilled when Jane Goodall, who has been a dear friend of the bears over the years, so kindly took the time to record and send us a video message of support and a greeting from “her” chimps of Gombe, Africa to “our” bears of Vietnam, which we proudly played at the opening.

As Jane’s chimp vocalisations echoed around the hills of Tam Dao it brought it home to us all how connected we are in empathy and respect for the animal world. Thanks so much Jane and love from all of us – and the bears send their greetings back to you and the chimps in Gombe!

And finally, there's our wonderful, committed Vietnam staff – everyone from Tuan Bendixsen our Vietnam Director, who oversaw the opening in his usual resourceful and cheery style, to the cooks, vets, bear teams and drivers to the security teams, admin, accounts and media staff. Their resilience, humour, hard work and professionalism shine through in the smile on every face at the rescue centre.

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