Spread over an area of 11 hectares, the sanctuary has almost 30,000 square metres of semi-natural outdoor enclosure space designed to stimulate the bears’ natural behaviours. There are five double bear houses, each containing two rows of conjoined concrete dens. Each row of dens opens out onto a large outdoor enclosure with pools, trees and various structures and furniture designed to aid rehabilitation. There are also two houses with no outdoor access, a polytunnel area with cages for housing bears recovering from surgery, and an undercover area that provides temporary housing space for new arrivals in large cages while they are in quarantine.

As the team in Vietnam regularly receives cubs confiscated from wildlife traders or poachers, we have also constructed a 280 square metre cub house with a 1000 square metre outdoor area split into seven enclosures. Furnished with cub-sized wooden sleeping platforms, the cub dens house young bears until they are mature enough to be moved to the larger double bear houses and integrated with the adults.

The sanctuary’s surgical facilities and hospital are equipped with veterinary anaesthesia monitoring equipment, a portable ultrasound machine, ophthalmic and dental equipment and on-site laboratory facilities to give the rescued bears the best possible chance of recovery.

The Tam Dao rescue centre has been built to strict environmental guidelines and with architecture sympathetic to the park’s environment and local customs. We have also installed two state-of-the-art waste water treatment systems to recycle and reuse water. Designed to handle a daily capacity of 70 cubic metres, the system treats and recycles domestic wastewater and wastewater from the bear dens, purifying both in a low-maintenance natural biological treatment process. This involves sedimentation, flotation, and the breakdown of materials using bacteria and sunlight, all of which helps ensure that our facilities do not deplete or pollute the local water supply.

Many of the enrichment furnishings and toys the bears enjoy in their enclosures have also been made from local materials and are built on-site by our own bear horticulture team.

Once development is completed, the rescue centre will be able to house 200 bears.VN timeline

There are around 90 staff onsite, including vets and vet nurses, bear managers and bear workers, translators, administrative staff, gardeners, security guards, construction and maintenance staff. 

The adult bears we receive in Vietnam suffer from various physical ailments, such as gall bladder damage, scarring of internal abdominal structures and gall stones from clumsy bile extraction methods; broken and infected teeth from inappropriate diet; missing feet or limbs from being caught in the wild; a range of eye diseases; stunted bone growth, arthritis and fractures; heart disease; tumours; thickened and cracked feet from standing on bars; traumatic wounds and injuries; skin and ear infections; hair loss from rubbing; and body conditions ranging from emaciation to obesity from being kept immobile and fed a poor and inappropriate diet. On top of this, many are also anxious, angry and frustrated.

We receive many cubs – some of which have been separated from their mothers before they are fully weaned. As these youngsters are vulnerable to stress and easily frightened they need to be housed in a sheltered, quiet environment and fed a carefully balanced diet to keep them healthy. Young bears also need lots of stimulation so the cub dens are equipped with safe cub-sized things to play with.

Along with adult moon bears and moon bear cubs, the Vietnam sanctuary also receives Malayan sun bears, which are often kept individually as display bears in resorts and restaurants and sometimes also subjected to bile extraction. The sun bears have their own separate enclosure at the sanctuary.

Despite the poor condition of many of the bears we receive, most make a good recovery. This is partly because of their stoic and resilient nature, but also because of the professional care they receive from our veterinary team, on-site managers, workers and expert volunteers, and our extensive behavioural and veterinary management programme.

Although the Vietnam sanctuary is not officially open to the public, the team offer open-day guided tours for small groups of pre-booked visitors twice a month. As part of the centre’s public education programme, the team has developed presentations and workshops on the conservation and welfare needs of bears, as well as general animal welfare and environmental issues, which are offered to young people at schools and universities.

In 2010, the team conducted a survey on the use of bile among 150 traditional medicine (TM) practitioners in Vietnam in order to identify the level of usage of bear bile. This survey was enlarged in 2012 to include representatives from approximately 70,000 practitioners. Using the survey results the team is working closely with the Vietnam TM Association to develop an educational programme to raise awareness of the herbal alternatives to bear bile among TM practitioners and the public. As part of this programme, a herb garden is being established at the sanctuary where many of the 54 alternatives to bear bile will be grown.

Through the team’s hard work and willingness to share their expertise and experience with other NGOs, animal welfare organisations and park authorities – as well as their ability to engage with celebrities and politicians such as former national assembly member Professor Nguyen Lan Dung – the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre has become a focal point for public education on bear bile farming and bear conservation and welfare in Vietnam. The bear team also conducts important research on bear behaviour, the adverse affects of the industry on the bears’ mental and physical health and the potential risks of using bile.

Once the bear facilities at the sanctuary are complete, we will develop an education centre for visitors to raise awareness of the effect of bear bile farming on the health of farmed bears and their near extinction in the wild in Vietnam.

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Bear Profiles

Meet some of the most iconic bears that Animals Asia has cared for at its award-winning sanctuaries in China and Vietnam