The Three Bears are loving sanctuary life one year after their fairytale rescue

21 April 2021

Today we’re celebrating the first rescue anniversary of the beautiful ‘Three Bears’, Alice, Bân and James, and finding out how they’re doing a year into their new lives.

Last March, the staff at our bear sanctuary in Vietnam were alerted by our government partners, the Forest Protection Department (FPD), to the plight of three young bears who were being kept illegally on a farm in the Nam Dinh province.

Although bear bile farming is illegal in Vietnam, it is legal to keep bears if they are microchipped and have registration papers. They were Nowhere Bears, like hundreds of other forgotten bears who are hidden away in dark, lonely places, caged and frightened, like prisoners in a grim fairytale dungeon.

The FDA told us that, like most Nowhere Bears, the three were in a sorry state due to a lifetime of neglect and confinement, and needed rescuing as soon as possible. Our team immediately sprang into action and started preparing to rescue the bears on 1 April.

But like the rest of the world, Vietnam was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and just as the team were about to go and get the bears, the government announced a country-wide three-week lockdown.

We couldn’t go and get them. We were heartbroken.

To get them out of immediate danger, the FPD officials moved the bears to their station close by. As the FPD are not trained in bear care and welfare our team provided guidance to the officials for the next anxious few weeks as we waited to find out if and when restrictions would be lifted.

When we finally heard that restrictions had been lifted, we didn’t waste a second in getting them and bringing them home!

The Three Bears arrived at our sanctuary on 21 April 2020 and entered into a 45-day quarantine, where, for the first time in their lives, they received a varied and delicious diet of nutritious meals and snacks, they drank crisp, fresh water and received full health checks.

As we’d come to affectionately call them The Three Bears in reference to the famous children’s story, we couldn’t help but notice that their lives had taken a somewhat fairytale-like turn, too.

We therefore decided to name them after three young, spirited characters in children’s story books who’d overcome great adversity and gone on to lead happier lives. James was named after the protagonist in James and the Giant Peach who overcame cruelty to find friendship and security. Bân’s name came from the Vietnamese tale about the clumsy Princess Bân whose love kept people warm on cold days. And last but not least is Alice, whose time in the terrifying and disorienting Wonderland was coming to an end.

All three bears were understandably nervous and anxious at first. They appeared to be young - around three years old - so the likelihood is that they had been taken from their mothers in the wild and witnessed her being killed by poachers. 

However, despite initial nervousness, all three bears flourished during their quarantine and slowly but surely began to trust their dedicated carers who patiently waited by their sides, gently encouraging them to grow and gain confidence every day.

Sarah van Herpt, Senior Bear Team Manager explained how the team “took the quarantine at the bears’ paces as they were all at different stages.”

“James was the first to venture outside, he was incredibly brave. But introducing Alice and Bân to each other in person for the first time was just the most beautiful and wholesome meeting I could have ever imagined. They both took to each other straight away and just played and played and played!”

And one year on, the positive effects of open spaces, fun, friendship, care - ultimately, love - are evident in just how far they’ve come.

All three bears are healthy, happy and playful and they shine like the stars they are! They are no longer Nowhere Bears, they are Somebody Bears. You have given them a place to love and be loved: a home, and a fairy tale ending.

As always, we cannot express our gratitude to you, our wonderful supporters who not only make rescues like Alice, James and Bân’s possible, but are with us every step of the way, through the unpredictable lows and the incredible highs. 

From Alice, Bân and James and everyone at Animals Asia: Thank you!

Read more:

Their happily ever after begins now - #ThreeBearsRescue

Six bears’ long road to recovery