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A big thanks to our intrepid trekkers!

Just recently we proudly welcomed our UK trekkers on site in Vietnam. These unsung heroes had trekked over inhospitable terrain for lengths of anything up to 10 hours a day to raise money for the bears, and arrived with us exhausted, but unbowed.

Over the years, they have loyally and tirelessly stayed with Animals Asia – dreaming up ever more crazy and adventurous ways of raising precious funds. Lovely Sarah, Linda and Louise even braved skydiving in the spring, and the pictures made me shudder as their frozen smiles did a sterling job of masking the fear they must have been feeling at the time.

And here they were – joined by Sue, Dave, Oliver, Bernie, Cheryl, Aileen, Jane, Frances, Lou, Aga, Cathy, Louise and Kate – all with big beaming smiles as they met the rescued bears for the very first time.

We had a fantastic few hours together as our visitors first knuckled down to create enrichment toys for the bears, who would soon be ripping into cardboard boxes filled with a smorgasbord of nuts, seeds, fruit, honey, peanut butter and chocolate sauce. Here's Frances working hard and in the next pic, Oliver and Sue (with camera).

Sarah (below) even kindly taste-tested the chocolate sauce first!):

Vet Leanne and Bear Managers Belinda and Russell enthusiastically guided them through the various bear areas and gave an overview of their day-to-day work and responsibilities. And then of course it was the bears’ turn to take the stage and show themselves off as only these consummate actors can.

I thought everyone in the group would pop with excitement as they fed cubs Maggie, Angus and Taurus with small pieces of fruit and gushed about their soft, pink lips. The three little delinquents couldn’t get enough of all the attention and of course they stole the show.

Young Olly, who himself was a cub only two years ago, happily strolled over to the front of his den to say hi to his beaming sponsor, Oliver. Sleek and handsome, our gorgeous juvenile was a perfect example of how good food and heaps of tender, loving care can change the lives of skinny, terrified cubs destined for a life on the farms.

Linda had her “moment of a lifetime” when she met her Southampton group’s sponsored bear, Irwin Junior – named in memory of Steve Irwin. Aileen then met Mausi, who also arrived as a cub two years ago and is now glossy and glowing with health and befriended by Aileen’s granddaughter’s Hermitage School.

Tuan, our thoughtful Vietnam Director had worked with staff Yen and Nhung, and part-time volunteer Vanessa Seguin, to create some beautiful Vietnamese lacquer picture files and our guests were thrilled with their memento of the day.

And at this point I’m turning over the rest of today’s blog to Sue, who wrote a beautiful update after she returned home. We loved having you all on site – come back soon!

From Sue:

“What an experience. We saw the most amazing sights up in the northern hills – from majestic water buffalo to comical Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs – and stayed with host families, including a delightful family from the Red Dao tribe, one of several colourful ethnic minority communities that inhabit this area of Vietnam. Oh, and we stumbled across some rather revolting leeches that attached themselves to our walking boots and tee shirts.

There were fifteen trekkers in all and we crossed dodgy suspension bridges and fast-flowing rivers and ducked beneath row upon row of massive spider webs (quite an ordeal for one trekker who is arachnophobic), walking for up to 10 hours a day on occasions. On the final day we visited Animals Asia’s moon bear sanctuary in Vietnam, which is located in the beautiful Tam Dao National Park, a couple of hours from Hanoi.

There were tears of anticipation days beforehand, so you can imagine the emotion on the day! Jill and her team made us feel so welcome – in fact, we were made to feel as if we’d just completed Everest, and for some of us, that’s exactly how it felt.

The cubs were a delight, romping around in their pens without a care in the world. For those of us who had befriended a bear or who were lucky enough to have named a bear (Oliver’s magnificent Olly for example), it was an unforgettable experience.

We had seen these beautiful animals on the internet, but nothing quite prepares you for meeting them in the flesh. They looked so contented, ripping their way through the enrichment goodies we’d been invited to prepare for them earlier – honey brought over specially from England, along with nuts and raisins and a host of other treats. It was a delight to see their obvious joy at being free from fear and pain. It just makes you want to walk a hundred more miles to bring this miserable bear bile trade to an end.”

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