Six bears’ long road to recovery

27 July 2020

Despite the global crisis and national lockdowns our rescue teams in Vietnam have brought six more bears home to sanctuary so far this year. You may have been following their journeys and you may have donated to support their rescues and rehabilitation. Supporters from all over the world have come together to dramatically change the lives of these previously imprisoned bears, making the work of our rescue, veterinary and bear care teams possible, and allowing these bears the chance to walk on grass once more. Thank you for every gift from the heart that touches the lives of these sweet bears.

These are their stories.

Back in March Animals Asia’s Vietnam team were alerted by the Forest Protection Department (FPD) to four bears who were in need of rescue from an illegal farm in Nam Dinh province. Tragically the Covid-19 lockdown meant that our rescue team wasn’t able to travel and one of the bears died. We worked with the local FPD to have the bears moved to their station to avoid further harm coming to the three surviving bears and advised them on how to care for the bears while waiting for the strict travel restrictions to be lifted.

When it was clear that it was safe to travel the rescue team set out on the #ThreeBearsRescue. When they arrived on site they found three bears who were obviously very anxious and distressed, which is unsurprising considering the ordeal they had lived through. Although there were three bears it was clear life had been no fairy tale for them and so in anticipation of the happily ever after that was about to begin the bears were named after characters from popular fairy tales.

The bears were named James, after James and the Giant Peach who overcame cruelty to find friendship and security; Alice, whose time in a nightmarish Wonderland was coming to an end and Bân, after Princess Bân from the Vietnamese fairy tale about the clumsy daughter of the King of heaven whose warmth of love and care extends to everyone on unexpectedly cold days.

Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director Heidi Quine said: “Everyone fell in love with these three bears immediately. It was clear that they were traumatised by their experiences. On close inspection they appear to be quite young bears, leading us to believe that they were captured from the wild and possibly witnessed the death of their mother while cubs. We’re going to do everything we can to earn back their trust and their forgiveness while providing them with the best quality of life possible, free from the prospect of decades trapped in cages.”

Once rescued the bears progressed slowly through a vital quarantine period where our team assessed their health and progress until it was agreed that they were prepared mentally and physically for transfer to more spacious dens and eventually outdoor enclosures.

While the three bears were still in quarantine another rescue was launched on International nurses day. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded everyone of the absolutely essential health care work of nurses and so this bear rescue was dubbed the #HealingHeartsRescue. The two bears we found, held as a roadside attraction next to a restaurant, were about to warm the hearts of supporters around the world.

The two bears were named after notable nurses Florence Nightingale who is known as the founder of modern nursing and Clarissa (Clara) Barton, a pioneering American nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. We discovered that the bears had been held captive since they were 8 kilogram cubs in the year 2000. It was hard to believe that these two intelligent wild animals had spent two whole decades in such cramped cages.

Florence and Clara progressed through the stages of quarantine rehabilitation really well, engaging with the enrichment items they were given and responding well to their bear carers. They received full health checks at our sanctuary hospital, sadly Clara showed signs of extensive arthritis in her knees and right elbow, Florence has arthritis in her spine. Having assessed their situation the veterinary team were able to begin giving them pain relief medication.

Their teeth were also assessed and Clara had one diseased molar removed and both bears showed signs of hypertension and so they will likely be started on long term medication for their high blood pressure after the team has consulted with cardiology specialists. These thorough and detailed health checks, procedures and medications are only possible for these bears due to kind donations from supporters just like you.

The most recent arrival at the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre was Cotton Blossom who was the last remaining bear held captive in Gia Lai province on the border with Cambodia.

 “With a rescue, you never really know what to expect", said Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director, Tuan Bendixsen. “Fortunately, we found Cotton Blossom to be a very calm bear, weighing around 120kg. She responded well to the sweet treats she was offered. Even the sound of the angle grinder cutting open her cage door didn’t distract her. And she voluntarily entered the transport cage to begin the long journey to her new home.”

The rescue sent the team on a 2,200km round trip and Cotton Blossom’s journey took the better part of four days, from the south of Vietnam, to Animals Asia’s sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park, an hour north of Hanoi. On the journey, taking place during the height of summer, the team stopped to cool Cotton Blossom off with showers, fruit and banana leaves which were of particular interest to her. All of these rescues were made possible with the support of the conservation campaign Explorers Against Extinction, and this rescue was emblematic of the lengths the team would go to, to save bears who have had their lives stolen.

“After quarantine she will be moved into a larger den, then once she feels comfortable, she will finally have the chance to walk on the grass and feel the sun on her face – for possibly the first time since she was a cub,” said Tuan. “And after twenty long years of isolation in a cage, she will have the freedom to make friends with some of the other nearly 200 bears we care for at the sanctuary.”

These rescues remind us that every bear is an individual with their own personality, stories and needs. The work you support takes us all, step by step, closer to a world in which every animal is treated with the respect, empathy and kindness they deserve. Every step along the way is important, none more so than those first steps on grass after years of confinement. There are six more cages that are now empty forever, and six more bears on the path to rehabilitation because of people like you. Thank you.