You did it! Watch six rescued bears take their first steps outside

20 July 2018

After cruelty comes sanctuary for six bears rescued from Vietnam’s bile industry who take their first steps on grass after a lifetime in a cage.

For six moon bears trapped on a Vietnamese bear bile farm for over a decade, the day they were rescued was the best day of their lives.

And since then, life has continued to get better and better for the group known as the #WishComeTrue bears.

First, each bear received the healthcare they needed to recover from painful, long-term health conditions. For the first time since being poached from the wild, they were free from pain.

Then they were introduced to large dens packed with climbing frames, comfortable sleeping spots, paddling pools and natural items designed to keep them stimulated.

Next they were strategically introduced to each other and were able – for the very first time – to touch and interact with their own species. A lifetime of loneliness and isolation ended, and long days of play began.

Now, all six bears have taken an even bigger step – walking out on the grass, under the immensity of the sky – and have once again experienced the best day of their lives.

Animals Asia Bear Manager Lauren Werrey, who oversaw the bears’ rehabilitation, said:

“Seeing these six bears be so brave and step outside into a natural world they’d long forgotten was one of the best days of my life – so I can’t imagine how it must have felt for each of them.

“It’s been a long hard road to get them to this point. The vets have done what they can to heal their bodies and manage painful conditions, and the bear team has spent hundreds of hours building trust, monitoring behaviour, overseeing integrations and realising when the time was right for them to go outside.

“For the bears this is the culmination of rehabilitation from a lifetime of suffering. All six are different, but are all doing amazingly well.”

Currently two bears, Anh Sang and Mia, are being housed in Animals Asia’s Miomojo Cub House, while the other four, Mana, Holly, Manu and Tim are living together in an adult enclosure.

They have all reacted differently to their first experience of life outdoors. Tim – whose name means “heart” – has been the bravest, exploring most of the enclosure and even venturing in to the pool.

Blind bear Mana has been the least receptive and on some days will move to the area of his den furthest away from the enclosure when the door is open.

Moon bear Holly hasn’t truly learned to fully trust the environment, spending short periods of around five minutes outside at a time, while Manu has slowly been increasing her bravery and spending increasingly large amounts of time out on the grass.

Animals Asia Vietnam Bear and Vet Team Director, Heidi Quine said:

“Being caged and suffering bile extraction for over a decade takes a huge emotional toll on a bear.  Each animal is an individual and they all react differently to the huge changes taking place in their lives after rescue.

“Many bears are understandably nervous about unknown, large outdoor spaces and can take months to dare to go outside, but all six of these bears have conquered their fears and the next stage of their new lives can now begin.”

Moon bears Mia, Mana, Manu, Holly, Tim and Anh Sang were poached from the wild and kept in tiny cages on a bile farm in Vietnam’s Binh Duong province since at least 2005 – all so their bile could be extracted for use in traditional medicine.

Bear bile farming has been illegal in Vietnam since 1992 but the practice has continued due to a legal loophole allowed farmers to continue to hold captive bears.

In summer 2017, Animals Asia and the Vietnamese government signed a legally binding agreement which will see them work in partnership to rescue every bear in the country and send them to sanctuaries by 2022 as the country transitions towards a bile farm-free future.

While an official count is still ongoing, between 800 and 900 bears are believed to be held on private bile farms around the country.

Sanctuary staff are now busy identifying existing communities of bears within the rescue centre for the #WishComeTrue bears to join. Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre has a maximum theoretical capacity of 200 bears, while there are currently 173 bears at the facility.