Five years after being rescued, has Cubby Leo found her sunshine?

17 August 2021

There was excitement in the air as our rescue team approached a house in the village of Xuan Hoa in northern Vietnam on 17 August 2016. We were on our way to rescue a sun bear who’d been caged as a pet for seven years. We couldn’t wait to go and get her and bring her back to our sanctuary.

Our rescue teams have seen bears living in some terrible conditions, but what they saw that day still shocked them. 

They were led out of the daylight into a small, dark, dirty, concrete room. Once their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, they followed the sounds to an old, rusty cage inside which a clearly distressed bear was pacing back and forth.

What’s in a name?

Bears on bile farms or who are kept as pets have usually been taken away from their mothers as cubs. As Heidi Quine, Bear and Vet Team Director at our Vietnam sanctuary explained, “their identities and freedoms are taken away and their needs ignored. They become a thing, a Nowhere Bear.” 

Heidi continues, “as soon as we rescue a bear we give them their dignity and individuality back by giving them a temporary name. This is until we can find a Bear Guardian who will give them their forever name and support them on their road to recovery.”

Originally called Annemarie this beautiful, gentle bear had many thousands of people fall in love with her including one special Bear Guardian who has named her Cubby Leo, her forever name.

A lifetime in a cage

Until Cubby Leo arrived at our sanctuary in Vietnam, her entire world had been a cage in a dark room.  

Now, for the first time, she had her own den with enrichment items such as hessian sacks and banana leaves, and treats like tropical fruit to get her taste buds tingling again after years of eating gruel. 

And yet, Cubby Leo was too traumatised to step foot outside her den for an entire year after being rescued. 

Our bear care staff were incredibly patient, careful and considerate with Cubby Leo. They monitored her reaction to every new thing she was introduced to, sourcing more of what she liked and removing things that she backed away from. 

Working at Cubby Leo’s pace, the team slowly and gently encouraged her to take that all-important first step outside.

There are hundreds of bears like Cubby Leo who are lost in the shadows. If you are able to, please help us bring them home:

The first tentative step to freedom

One morning, a year after Cubby Leo captured our hearts, the team’s hard work, unwavering patience and encouragement paid off. They stood and watched and held their breaths as she took her very first step outside her den and towards the sunlight.

This incredibly brave bear had finally stepped out of the darkness.

Over the following weeks, months and years, our care team continued to monitor Cubby Leo’s progress, reactions, likes and dislikes. She shared her enclosure with other sun bears who we slowly introduced her to. Having not seen another bear for many years, Cubby Leo was understandably wary of her new housemates, but they were patient and gentle with her and left her alone if she didn't want to interact.

To our team’s absolute joy, Cubby Leo eventually started to trust the other bears and began playing, rolling around and even napping with them.


Kindness is the cure

Five years on, Cubby Leo is a playful, happy, confident and sometimes even cheeky resident of our sun bear house! 

Her incredible transformation is testament to the team’s commitment to this very special bear, to their fierce love for Cubby Leo and for every single bear that we rescue and care for and all those that we are yet to rescue. 

They have proven, yet again and will do many times over, that the only cure truly is kindnes.

Read more: Sun bear rescued after 7 years held as a pet in a cage