Circus school rescue of "Valerie" marks the 211th bear rescued for Vietnam Sanctuary

07 November 2019

On Wednesday morning our rescue team, led by Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen, was dispatched to the  Hanoi Circus and Vaudeville Secondary School. Mr. Hau, the Deputy Director of Tam Dao National Park, which is the home of our Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, had  told us about the existence of a female moon bear that needed rescuing. Mr Hau’s nephew had been recently appointed to the role of director at the circus school and said he was keen to bring the institution in line with the directive from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to stop the use of wildlife in performances. Animals Asia however have not seen any official written ban, but the direction of travel is good with an instruction from the ministerial level to phase out the use of wild animals in circuses and the verbal declarations made by the Deputy Director of the Vietnam Circus Federation on mass media.

Our Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale and his team are lobbying the government to introduce such a directive and had this to say about the rescue:

“We have long opposed the use of wild animals in circuses and were very gratified at the circus school’s moves to end the practice. However progress is slow and the government doesn’t have the resources to fully enforce a ban or the space and skills to look after all of the wild animals currently held captive for entertainment. We have however started to see attitudes changing and this action on behalf of the circus school is to be warmly welcomed.

“In addition to releasing Valerie to us, the school also released four Rhesus macaque monkeys to the government run Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Centre at Soc Son where we provide ongoing support and are a consulting member of staff. Recently we redesigned and funded the rebuild of the macaque enclosure, vastly increasing the natural enrichment available for the animals.

“This rescue really marks a step in the right direction and gives hope that our campaign to end wildlife performances in Vietnam can be achieved.”

Upon our rescue team’s arrival at the circus school, we were met by the school’s new director, who is strongly against the use of wild animals in circuses and is working to phase it out. He voluntarily reached out to us in the hope we could take Valerie to our award-winning bear sanctuary, just north of Hanoi. And we’re so grateful that he did.

Valerie was initially very shy and nervous about moving from the familiarity of tiny circus cage into our transport cage. But she was curious and we quickly learned she had a sweet tooth, especially for marshmallows, sweet potato and condensed milk.

As we gained her trust and our Vet Surgeon Kate Shipton inspected Valerie, we could see that her right eye was either missing or badly damaged and we will need to look at this in more detail at our hospital over the coming weeks. She is quite thin and has skin and fur issues, likely the result of a poor diet. But we are confident that this will gradually improve with healthy and nutritious food and a less stressful, more appropriate environment. 

Kate does visual health check and Kelly feed Valerie with honey

Eventually we managed to move Valerie from her cage to the transport carrier without anaesthetic so we weren’t able to carry out an onsite health check, but we will examine her once she has settled in at the sanctuary.

Our Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said:

“I would like to acknowledge the efforts of our Animal Welfare team in lobbying the government to end the use of wildlife in circuses, which has contributed greatly to this rescue. We have decided to call the bear “Valerie,” which means “healthy”, “brave” and “strong” to illustrate her resilience and the life we want to help her live. She’s going to need ongoing care for the rest of her life, which we hope will be 20 years or more, and we guarantee that with the kindness of supporters all over the world, we’ll be there to provide it for her.”

Animals Asia Founder and CEO Jill Robinson added:

“I’m so thrilled that Valerie has joined our VBRC family and like everyone I can’t wait to see her settle into her new home at the sanctuary. Once she’s completed her 45-day quarantine period she’ll finally be able to feel the grass under her paws. It’s a truly magical experience to see those first steps and we’ll be there to share every moment with all the people around the world that wish Valerie nothing but love and healing. 

“During these first crucial days we’ll assess Valerie’s condition, but from day one she will be experiencing stimulating enrichment, a healthy diet and world class veterinary health care, unlike anything she will have experienced in her life thus far. This is all due to gracious supporters like you. Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts.”

Valerie will no longer be a prop to be prodded into performing tricks for the entertainment of human beings. She is going to be free to make her own choices and perform natural behaviours. Valerie is a very special moon bear, so gentle and sweet. Thankfully, with the help of countless kind strangers around the world, Valerie’s awesomeness is no longer a side-show, locked in a cage. Valerie’s a true star and we can’t wait to see her inner bear emerge.

move Valerie to QA