Caught on camera: the joyous moment two bear cubs step on grass for first time after rescue from circus cruelty

17 June 2019

Endangered moon bear cubs were forced to ride motorbikes on stage, now they are happily out on the grass in Animals Asia’s award-winning sanctuary.

Moon bear cubs Sugar and Spice have set paws on grass for the very first time since being poached from the wild.

Both sisters were poached from the wild and forced to perform on a circus stage in Hanoi, Vietnam before an investigation by Animals Asia led to their rescue.

If they hadn’t been rescued, the cubs would have spent their entire lives – up to 30 years – in barren concrete cells, tiny cages and would never have seen trees or grass again.

Despite being traumatised by the cruelty they endured, including being forced to ride motorbikes and walk on their hind legs, both bears are expected to make a full recovery.

Sugar and Spice in the enclosure 2

Animals Asia Senior Bear Manager Sarah van Herpt, who is caring for the cubs, said:

“The moment these two fragile little cubs stepped out on the grass for the first time was magical. They were curious and enchanted by the outside world, but frightened too. Without their mother to protect them they are vulnerable and know how awful exploitation can be, but in time they will realise they are safe in our sanctuary. No one can hurt them anymore.”

Moon bears are an endangered species and protected from exploitation and poaching by Vietnamese law, yet cubs Sugar and Spice were found to be openly performing on stage at Central Circus in downtown Hanoi.

When Animals Asia investigators informed the authorities, the circus admitted they did not have paperwork to prove legal ownership of the bears, leading to their rescue.

Poached too young to learn survival skills from their mother, both cubs will spend the rest of their lives in Animals Asia’s award-winning Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, home to nearly 200 other bears, mostly rescued from the bear bile industry.

At the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuary accredited rescue centre, they will have access to large, semi-natural outdoor enclosures filled with trees, grass, climbing frames, swimming pools and rock piles which will keep them stimulated and encourage natural behaviours.

When they are old enough, they will be integrated with an existing community of bears providing even more stimulation for the duo.

Animals Asia Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said: 

“Sadly, Animals Asia have become experts in caring for cubs over the years as young endangered bears continue to be taken from the wild for the bear bile industry, circuses and even the exotic pet trade. While our sanctuary is vital in stopping the poachers, the government has to do more. There are still many other bears being openly and disgustingly exploited in circuses up and down the country. The government needs to step in as soon as possible to allow every bear to be rescued, otherwise the cycle of cruelty will continue.”

When rescued, Sugar and Spice, who are siblings, weighed just 36 and 50 kilogrammes respectively and are believed to be under a year old. A preliminary health check found no serious health problems but Spice was found to have a scar on her wrist – likely from being snared in the wild – while Sugar had suffered some dental damage.

An Animals Asia investigation in 2017 revealed that circuses across Vietnam were routinely forcing endangered and protected species to perform while 100% of facilities failed to meet the basic needs of the animals.

To date, no facility has been able to explain the origin of their protected species, yet the rescue of Sugar and Spice marks the first time the authorities have taken punitive action against a circus or tourist facility in possession of a protected species.

With facilities unable to breed bears and their poaching and sale illegal, serious questions remain as to how the animals are being obtained.

Animals Asia is currently petitioning the Vietnam government to ban wild animal performance and send the animals to recognised rescue centres and sanctuaries. 

The petition currently has more than 130,000 signatures and will be presented to the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism.

Animals Asia Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson MBE said:

“It is unthinkable that confused and frightened young bears are being exploited and forced to perform on stage in Vietnam. These animals are endangered, protected by national laws and deeply traumatised by what is being done to them. The conditions they are held in are horrific and there is no regard for their welfare while on stage. Thankfully, the cruelty is over for Sugar and Spice, but we won’t give up on other animals suffering the same awful fate.”

Today was a huge day for Sugar and Spice. But so is tomorrow. And the day after that.

We’ll be by their side every step of the way, just as we are for every other bear that needs our help.

Please, if you can, be there for bears like Sugar and Spice and all those crying out for rescue.

A gift from you today can give a new tomorrow to bears like Sugar and Spice. If you can, please help.

Sugar and Spice in the enclosure 1