A year's end, packed with new beginnings

This was a first for Animals Asia – an international press conference literally held in a bear house. 

The dreadful floods in Bach Ma, Vietnam had obliterated our original plans – so our team on the ground put their clever and collective thinking caps on and suddenly, a eureka moment! We relocated this important event on top of the dens in an empty bear house, which our newly rescued bears will soon call home.

event set up on rooftop
Above the bear dens, from where future rescued bears will be observed, our opening ceremony comes together. 

And here we were, on 17th November, celebrating the official opening of our second sanctuary in Vietnam, together with the Vietnam government's promise to end bear bile farming by 2026. The event was spectacularly organised by our Vietnam Director, Dr. Tuan Bendixsen and our outstanding local teams, who worked exhaustively to ensure that everything went without a hitch, and – with support from colleagues and teams worldwide who surged to assist – turned it into one of our best celebrations to date.

The stage is set.

Despite the rain, the day turned out to be as special as it could be as we were joined by the Vietnam government, celebrity ambassadors, major donors, traditional medicine practitioners, the media and even a former bear bile farmer.

Ex-bear bile farmer, Mr Do Van Hoe speaks with Jill about giving up his bears.

As many know, our bear rescue program and work to end the industry includes thanking the farmers too for giving up their bears, which then sees them encouraging other bear farmers to follow suit – in a campaign that causes no shame or embarrassment but closes the industry as quickly and efficiently as possible. Indeed, we were struck by the openness of Mr Hoe – who previously owned the bears we named Dawn, Noon, Twilight, Midnight and MacDuff (previously nicknamed Chronos) – especially when he told us that he now felt "released" on surrendering his bear. He later added that he was persuading other bear farmers to do the same and release their bears into our care.

people at table
Our friends and ambassadors travelled to Vietnam to mark this momentous occasion.

Meanwhile, our Vietnam Ambassador, beautiful and talented actress, Maggie Q had flown in from the USA and joined our tireless UK Ambassadors Peter Egan and Lesley Nicol who arrived from the UK. Our government partners couldn't stop smiling as they heard Maggie's impassioned speech thanking them for joining with Animals Asia to conserve, protect and respect Vietnam's endangered species of bears, and then from Peter and Lesley who also movingly congratulated the government for their leadership in welfare and conservation, Asia-wide.

Our first bear house at the Bach Ma sanctuary, built with the generous support of the Olsen Animal Trust.

With gratitude to Sue and Jon Olsen, founders of the Olsen Animal Trust, for funding a critically-needed double bear house, and for joining us on the day to open it! To our dear friends and supporters who also flew out to join us in both Tam Dao and Bach Ma from various countries across the globe – it was so special to see you.

government official at opening ceremony AAF Vietnam
Dr Nguyen Huu Thien - Deputy Director of the Central Forest Protection Department

And to the Vietnam government of multiple departments who stood side by side with us all in the glorious Bach Ma National Park, and promised on stage that their partnership with Animals Asia would end bear farming in Vietnam once and for all.

Our government partners, guests and Jill and Tuan officially open our new Bach Ma Bear Rescue Centre. 

To everyone across the world, and to everyone on the day with names too numerous to mention. Thank you, from the bottom of our deeply grateful hearts, for your faith and your trust and your kindness in this mission – we have seen one of our founding goals achieved and can never thank you enough. Gratitude too to our Board and team members, locally and worldwide, who made our supporters, our celebrities, our government friends feel so welcome, so honoured and so loved. This was a fabulous event to end 2023 – especially for the bears.

Watch a quick round up below of how our beautiful ambassadors, Peter Egan, Lesley Nicol and Maggie Q went above and beyond to fly out, champion and celebrate with us on the day... this film was created by our friend and talented director, Andrew Telling, who joined us in Vietnam to record this momentous occasion.

And in the blink of an eye we were off to China to launch a breath-taking event there too – as our Cat and Dog Welfare team celebrated our 8th China Companion Animal Symposium, together with 186 representatives, from 115 organisations in 54 cities across the country. 

group photo - symposium participants
Participants at our 8th China Companion Animal Symposium in Chengdu.

Here were over 20 experts and outstanding lecturers from the fields of animal behavior, management, law, finance, veterinary, and new media. Over two days, delegates discussed how they collaborate with each other and with the central and local authorities in upgrading sanctuaries, defining and improving sustainable staff and volunteer programmes, helping to enhance and promote veterinary expertise, introducing fundraising, education and even mental health benefits to the group leaders and their teams. Their ground-breaking work has also seen them advising on local regulations that benefit both people and animals' health, and promoting dogs and cats as the invaluable, irreplaceable companions they are.

Volunteers, Dr Dog at the symposium
One of our China Dr. Dog team greets symposium participants.

Our elephant family at Yok Don National Park has grown and benefited this year too. And to end the year on a love story, where sweet H'Plo was originally introduced to elephants Kham Phanh and H'Blu, who she thought would be her new best friends, and who sadly didn't feel the same about her... But her sadness was soon replaced with squeaks of happiness as finally she found a new best friend in Ta Nuon and all is well again in our elephant world in Vietnam.

two elephants in trees
Ta Nuon and H'Plo, now friends for life and free to roam in the forest.

This year has been chock-full of outstanding work from our team across Asia and, because of every single person reading this message, we have been able to change the lives of bears, elephants, birds, primates, dogs, cats and more, and replace suffering with sanctuaries, choices and joy.

As we wrap up 2023 and look with optimism and excitement to more of the same in 2024, I'm excited to share our festive parties, bear style, with you all.

christmas sign and bear
Woofstock checking the decor at our China Bear Rescue Centre.

bear with christmas tree
Peter plucking the 'baubles' from his enclosure festive tree.

In the last few weeks, our caring and creative teams in China and Vietnam have delighted the bears – and us – in decorating our sanctuaries with all the magic of the season, as bears tumble out of their dens to a world full of fantasy and fun.

bear and christmas present
Our beautiful, brave Dawn eyes a giftbox of sweet fruit treats on her first holiday, free and safe at our Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre. 

bear and gift box
Midnight considers how best to open her own box.

With gratitude to our entire staff and volunteers across the world, for once again, working their sensational socks off to bring the animals their new days, and bring their stories to your door. Our successes are yours, because you stay with and support what is really important in this challenging world, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you for so generously and kindly joining our celebration in Bach Ma - Maggie Q, Peter Egan, Lesely Nicol, Sue and John Olsen (Olsen Animal Trust), Richard Thoburn, Dr Ha Cong Tuan, Dr Nguyen Huu Thien, Ha Hai Binh, Nguyen Vu Linh, Hoi, Do Van Ho, Andrew Telling, Sarah and Ray Dawson, DJ and David Walker, Andria Quigley, Maria Garner, Belinda van Wilgenburg, Céline Wang, Michelle Lombard, Jo Lusby, Jan and John Murphy, Navin Khianey. And to Michelle and Ted Waitt (and TTMMC Fund) and Richard and Katie Brindle (The Muriel Jones Foundation) for your generousity in also helping to build a home for our bears. 

We all wish you merry days and good health now and into 2024, with gratitude from every lucky soul you have helped, and with endless thanks from us all, your family, Animals Asia.