One day in Bach Ma

There's a special calmness when a bear holds your gaze with quiet confidence. They hold your heart too as their soft brown eyes blink without fear, and you realise you've finally turned a corner in earning their trust. It's a feeling that shrouds you in sorrow and shame, while allowing you to smile briefly as well, with the knowledge that nothing will hurt them, ever again.

It happened with Ha Long today – her diminutive 50k body not yet supported by the thinnest pipe-cleaner legs, as she lay on banana leaves in her snug quarantine cage, quietly standing by for her 11 o'clock snack.

She is on eight mini-meals a day – prescribed by our caring and so-supportive vet team – that allows such small amounts to stay down after suffering multiple bouts of regurgitation since arriving nearly four weeks ago. A little pot of oats, ground kibble, sweet potato, wet cat/dog food and rice, followed by a frozen yogurt for dessert or her favourite spoon of strawberry jam. As our Bear Team Manager Ellie allowed me to help feed Ha Long, you could almost see her slowly gaining her life-saving ounces. And all the while those tiny brown eyes tapping a message of gratitude deep into my soul that I know will stay forever.

Jill serves Ha Long some of her daily treats, carefully scheduled to help rebuild her ravaged body.

All day, the mist rolled over Bach Ma National Park and our newest sanctuary like a ghostly white blanket, boosting the natural beauty of this Vietnam Shangri-la. Never did the saying "from farms to freedom" seem more apt. Six bears now dreamily waking up to a dawn echoing with a chorus of birds and forest animals, where before it was traffic horns, loud people and fear in their hearts. Armstrong, Buzz, Apollo, and now our three new dragons Ha Long, Cuu Long, and Thanh Long, unforgivably thin and recovering from their past.

Beautiful Ha Long sleeps peacefully on the soft bed nursing her body and spirit.

The afternoon bell rang out in House 3, the den doors opened and Buzz stuck her nose out first before ambling confidently onto the grass. She lifted her legs delicately as she walked on the spongy turf and began investigating the afternoon's food that had been lovingly laid out in her enclosure.

Armstrong (L) and Buzz (R) explore their enclosure...

Then Armstrong strode out – owning the day, eager to discover the selection of treats, before licking kibble from the concrete with his long pink tongue, crunching loudly as he slowly walked over towards our Vietnam Director, Tuan, and I. The wind changed and I caught his earthy smell and breathed in deeply, enjoying the aroma of a free, un-caged, bear. Closer and closer he walked towards us and then on to the green, green grass, the crunching grew louder, on an interesting journey of food exploration known only to him.

... foraging for fresh fruit and vegetables...

His big round belly gave him a curious Sumo air, and still he took sidelong glances as he munched his way over. He knew we were there but was content to keep a cautious distance as he finally turned, with one last look back, that seemed to say "it's ok here isn't it", before wandering over to Buzz and the pool.

... enjoying their close, peaceful friendship.

And meanwhile, Apollo slept on. Happily denned up in her warm basket bed, her lunchtime siesta far too sweet to disturb, and safe in the knowledge that supper was just around the corner. Come early evening her tummy would be full, in time for the serious business of a long night's sleep.

Thank you, so gratefully, from our bears and their new home and from the organisation you help so generously. We wish you good health and happiness, peace and prosperity and a wonderful Lunar New Year of the Dragon as our sanctuary fills with more symbolic dragons, until the last bear is home.