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Our new tiny family in Vietnam

Their eyes bulged with fear as the door of the four-wheel drive opened to expose our new family to the world. Tiny little scraps of moon bears, some 4-5kgs in weight and estimated to be just three-to-four months old.

Our Vietnam Director Tuan, vet Kirsty and I had just arrived at the Vietnam Academy of Science where Mr Dang Tat The, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, had been asked to officially identify these young cubs.

Taking a quick photo, he happily confirmed that they were indeed moon bears – now officially confiscated from a farm in Dien Bien Province – before joining Tuan to sign all the relevant paperwork for release. No, this wasn't a joke, but just one more example of how low the farmers will stoop when they want to hold on to their illegal stock.

After being raided, the farmer had denied that he was keeping moon bears – despite the fact that the animals bawling loudly in front of the authorities eyes resembled absolutely nothing else, as they showed off their lemony crescent moons and "mini" moon bear ears. So now the farmer had caused the cubs additional stress, because they first needed to be officially confirmed as bears at the institute in Hanoi before we were allowed to take them home.


Who knows what else had happened on the farm, or during capture where they would have been torn from a mother so desperately trying to prevent her cubs from being snatched away. And where was mum now? And will the farmer be prosecuted or be allowed to make a total mockery of the law?

But on the positive side, we were relieved to know that while being held in Dien Bien Province, the cubs had been exceptionally well cared for by the Dien Bien FPD (Forest Protection Department), who had clearly fed and looked after them well. With soft, silky fur, the cubs are active and bright, but are still in need of much tender, loving care from our team in Tam Dao who will share the hours and be their official "mum" for the next few months.

Both cubs were initially very wide-eyed – one scrawny little male with a damaged back right limb, now nicknamed Chien Thang which, very aptly, means victorious (little) fighter, and a more robust female nicknamed Charlie after our own Charlie Bear Manager in Tam Dao – and blinked out at the people around them. The female seems much braver than the male and shyly poked out a soft pink tongue at Kirsty's hand before patting her paws curiously through the bars of the cage.

The little male poking out his tongue at my hand clearly had some way to go as he followed up the curious inspection with a nip - just to emphasise that despite his tiny size, he wanted me to be in no doubt as to exactly who was boss. And of course Kirsty and I just smiled, knowing that this sort of attitude is a really good start and a good sign of an apparently healthy bear.


Within minutes they were both eagerly lapping milk formula and sucking the remains from their paws, and minutes after that with full tums and feeling more confident, there they were wrestling playfully together on the floor of the cage. The journey back to Tam Dao was uneventful and once in their cub room, with another meal now eagerly consumed, they were hurtling around their new world and into each other as if they had never known anything else.

 

Already their personalities show that Charlie is the curious, dominant bear and little Chien Thang is bravely trying to prove himself and has now earned another nickname of "the little spitfire". Next week, after they're more settled in, he will have to go through a mini health-check and X-ray of his leg so that Kirsty can determine exactly what is wrong.


For now, in these very early days, kudos to our Vietnam team including Tuan who, as ever, wove his way through the political minefield to bring our new family home, Kirsty and Caroline who dealt so professionally with all the vet side of the rescue, and Pernille who will be taking charge of the feeding and cleaning of the cubs over the next few weeks, and will soon be joined by two eager members of our bear team, Chien and Cong.

Thanks too to Chinh who succeeded in getting the first photos of these wriggling little mites who will hopefully be giving the other juveniles a run for their money in the outside enclosures next year.

It doesn't seem just over a year ago that tiny Taurus joined us at 2.3kgs and now tips the scales at over 92kgs!

Thanks again to our fabulous Vietnam team whose endless love and care ensures that the cubs’ early dark days soon disappear into new lives of fun.

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