BREAKING NEWS: Two moon bear cubs rescued in time for Moon Bear Day!

04 August 2020

A call came in on July 18th that two moon bear cubs were in urgent need of our help. The two young cubs were in Yen Bai province around four hours from the Animals Asia Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in Tam Dao National Park.

Our rescue team jumped into action and the bear team at the sanctuary immediately began preparing their new home, the cub house.

Animals Asia received the call after a man who purchased the bears from an illegal trader handed them to the authorities. He said he had bought the pair because they looked sad in such a small cage.

Animals Asia’s Vietnam Director Tuan Bendixsen said: “It’s highly likely that the two cubs were caught in the wild. Tragically it’s probable that their mother was killed so that her cubs could be taken and traded on the black market. Moon bear mothers would do anything to protect the cubs. In the wild, bear cubs would stay with their mother for up to 2 years or more to learn ‘bear skills’.”

These two cubs have cruelly been deprived of not only a mother but also the skills she would have taught them, vital to being able to survive in the wild. It’s up to us now to provide everything they need for a safe and enriched life as they grow and for the rest of their lives. This is, of course, less desirable than the life they were stolen from in the wild, however, it is a better fate than the one they were almost traded into, small barren cages, kept as exotic pets when young and cute, and almost inevitably subject to a lifetime of bile extraction when fully grown.

The rescue took place at the home of the man who bought the bears. He had decided to let the bears out of their small cage so that they could move freely in an enclosed outside area. There was a 15-20cm gap between the two interior walls to allow water run-off between the garage’s roof and another roof, this is where we found the frightened pair. The team used all of their experience, as well as a spoon of sweet treats on a very long pole to entice the bears into our transport cage for the journey back to the sanctuary.

The team began calling the two young male bears Anh and Em, which mean “big brother” and “little sibling” in Vietnamese, although there is no guarantee that they actually are siblings and the vet team have their doubts as they weights are not as similar as they would expect for siblings of that age. When they arrived Anh weighed 10.1kg and Em weighed just 7kg. The cubs are only three to four months old.

Despite the hunting and trading of bears being illegal, there is still a lot of hunting in Vietnam. Last year in Pu Mat National Park in central Vietnam rangers removed over 5,000 traps. These traps were set by hunters to indiscriminately catch anything that came through including bears. If the authorities can find the trader, that person will face fines equivalent to $22,000 to $88,000 US or one to five-year jail term.

Within just 36 hours our team had both cubs drinking from a bowl and already coming out of their shells. A week after their rescue, and lots of monitoring in their den, Anh and Em were given access to their enclosure supervised by Senior Bear Team Manager Sarah and Bear Team Supervisor Gai. 

Bear Team Supervisor Gai observed: “The cubs are so brave and within five minutes of entering the enclosure they were tearing around on the grass and chasing one another playfully, Anh was mostly in the lead, but sometimes the chases go the other way around.They have a little bright green pool and Anh especially likes flopping into the water.”

Letting the cubs out now into the enclosure now means they get the benefit of sunshine which helps with their production of vitamin D. They also get to nibble on grass and run amok in the dirt. Enclosure access also helps build their confidence by gently exposing them to new sights and sounds of sanctuary life. The cub house is tucked into a very quiet part of the sanctuary which helps them to not overload on new stimuli.

The bear care team is working overtime to make sure that the cubs get the best possible start in life so that even without their mother they can grow into strong, healthy adult bears.

The precision and expertise that goes into feeding the cubs are indicative of the care and professionalism of the bear husbandry practiced at Animals Asia’s sanctuaries.

Bear and Vet Team Director Heidi Quine said: “When an orphan cub is drinking only milk and before solids are introduced, they should receive 20% of their body weight in milk per day, split into several feeds over the day. So for example, a 5,000g bear cub should receive 1,000ml of milk, split into several feeds per day. That might look like 200ml at 6am, 200ml at 11am, 200ml at 2pm, 200ml at 6pm, 200ml at 9pm.

“As the cubs begin to eat solid foods, calculations become a little more nuanced and we switch to a precise system where we ensure they are receiving between three to four times the calories they would require to maintain basic biological functions. Fitness fanatics will know that as the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). All those extra calories go straight into growing strong and healthy adult bears. 

“We determine the BMR for the cubs by their weight and calculate the calorie content of their food by weighing everything precisely down to 10g. Currently, we are recalculating and updating the calorie requirements of both Anh and Em three times a week! The team is also slowly increasing the amount of solid food the boys get with an eye to slowly decreasing their milk.”

Here’s what Anh and Em currently get at 7am, 11.15am, 5pm and 9pm:

Anh: 430ml milk, 10g sweet potato, 20g tomato, 40g pear

Em: 320ml milk, 10g sweet potato, 20g tomato, 40g pear

There is an enormous amount of work going on to ensure we’re doing right by the cubs. We can’t ever replace their mum, but we’re doing our beary best.

The two cubs have done a great job at stealing the limelight from a galaxy of global superstars, led by comedian Ricky Gervais, actors Dame Judi Dench, Olivia Newton-John, Tzi Ma, and renowned conservationist Dame Jane Goodall who have recorded a special video message supporting Animals Asia’s campaign to end bear bile farming in the wake of the Covid19 crisis.

“If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s the power of leaving nature alone - and that The Only Cure is Kindness”, said British comedian and actor, Ricky Gervais. “We’ve got so much to learn from animals and nature - and there is so much we can do to help. Animals Asia is actively harnessing that kindness to end bear bile farming, rescuing bears and taking care of them. Let’s be kinder to nature, and kinder and more forgiving to each other too”.

“It’s absolutely amazing because just as the international stars were recording their video clips, our team in Vietnam got a call saying that two baby bears needed to be rescued”, said Jill Robinson Animals Asia Founder and CEO. 

“It’s brilliant to be able to welcome all of these household names into the Animals Asia family. By helping us mark Moon Bear Day and our historic agreement with the Vietnam Government, these global stars are raising awareness about the suffering caused by the bear bile industry”, she continued.

“Our supporters have been so generous in supporting our work, but the task ahead is formidable”, continued Robinson. “Animals Asia plans to help rescue up to 500 bears from 142 farms in Vietnam, so they can live out their lives in a sanctuary with world-class care. This will take time, effort and resources - by lending their voices, these luminaries are sending a message to each and everyone one of us: that The Only Cure is Kindness.”

“With the campaign to end bear bile farming in Vietnam close to realisation, Jill Robinson and Animals Asia have truly been leading the way, and I hope that their model of kindness in action will be rolled out across Asia”, said famed British ethologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder - the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace.

Anh and Em might only be little now but they’re already big stars around here. With the generous support of people all around the world we will give these two bears the red carpet treatment every day. It’s the least they deserve.