Welcome home our "Every Minute Rescue" Bears

Sometimes there just aren't the words. Nothing can describe the privilege to join a rescue with our team in Vietnam and bring 5 bears home to their new lives. And nothing can describe the broken bodies and minds, or the hopeless acceptance of confinement in the eyes of bears suffering what might be described as life in suspension, for 20 long years.

They had simply existed. For over 7,000 days, with hollow eyes that had seen no sky, no sun, no rain. The "learned hopelessness" and despair of bears denied the right of behaving like bears since cubs.

This "Every Minute Rescue" was a stark reminder that every minute counts and we have not a moment to lose to reach bears still pointing their noses hopefully skywards, before turning them back despairingly to cage bars.

The team I joined consisted entirely of our Vietnamese colleagues, collectively led by Thuy Hoang and Phuong Thanh Dang (Ellie) who will be heading the operation of our second sanctuary in Vietnam. With professionalism, agility and patience, here they were scoping the layout of the farm, the challenges of the manoevres, the condition of the bears, and whether they could be consciously and safely transferred from bear cage to rescue cage without the need for anaesthetic. Every minute counted as precious seconds ticked by, and as each bear cautiously "walked" their way into their new cages and into their new lives. 

And here too were the kindly government officials, led by the wonderful Mr Ha, who has paved the way in freeing the bears from this notorious "hot spot" of bear farming in Vietnam and resolutely promised their commitment and their sense of urgency for freeing them all. There with them, as he is at every single rescue was Tuan, our indescribably patient and knowledgeable Vietnam Director and his team who have been working with the authorities in this region for years, earning their trust, and encouraging their help for over 100 bears "left behind" on the farms. Without this, we would never have been standing there at the end, quietly celebrating empty cages and grateful hearts.

And now we have another 5 bears home. With characters and individuality already beginning to emerge. Their quarantine period will be a time for our expert veterinary team and managers to assess, understand, medicate and spoil - and a time for the bears to enjoy their treats and their toys and their showers with gusto. Curiosity overtaking suspicion, excitement overtaking fear, and eyes that tell us that, despite their past, they can dare to trust humankind again.

And we have too the final words of the bear farmer and his wife who promised to visit us soon, and to tell their fellow farmers that our sanctuary not only offers a home for life, but the promise of no criticism and only sincere thanks for those who will now surrender their bears... until no bear is left behind.