By Lauren Williamson and Hannah Konecny
The Animals Asia Bear Sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park was established in 2005 and is home to 103 moon and sun bears, rescued from farms across Vietnam. These bears are found in ‘crush’ cages suffering from a range of severe physical and psychological problems.
Animals Asia works to rehabilitate the animals through first class medical care; familiarising them with their natural environment, treating their diseases and providing proper nutrition which is a first for these mistreated bears.
Jill Robinson, the CEO and founder of Animals Asia, began the bear rescue campaign in 1993 after witnessing the abhorrent abuse of bears suffering in bile farms during an undercover visit to one in China.
The world-class sanctuary is nestled in the picturesque Chat Dau Valley, two hours out of Hanoi and boasts four semi-natural enclosures and onsite surgical facilities.
Phan Thi Thuy Trinh’s passion for animal welfare drove her to begin volunteering for the organisation and upon completing her studies in Australia, she returned to work as the communications officer.
“We set up all of the shelters ourselves including the electricity and running water and employ local farmers to give them an alternative way to make a living,” she said.
The majority of the staff lives on site, including Dao Chau Tuan who is one of the sanctuary’s most experienced workers, having been at the sanctuary since its establishment.
“He has been involved in many, many rescues … You see during feeding time the bears only come to the keepers they recognise because they are so scared of humans. He loves the bears like he loves his children,” Trinh explained.
On arrival, the bears are placed in quarantine while veterinarians evaluate the extent of their injuries.Once they receive the all clear, the process of integration with the other bears begins.
“The bears are very intelligent and have their own characteristics, we have 103 bears here so we also have 103 characters,” said Trinh.
One character in particular who has struggled with the rehabilitation process is a moon bear fittingly named Sassy. According to Pham Thu Huong, the sanctuary’s education officer, Sassy’s integration with the other bears has been a slow one as she is still quite defensive. Although her den mate, Little Dragon, was once a regular playmate their relationship went downhill as Sassy became more anti-social.
Despite this setback, keepers are confident Sassy, like the other bears, will make a strong recovery.
The bear and vet team director Annamarie Weegenaar has experienced the success of the program first hand many times.
“I was here when we first rescued our three cubs, Mara, Olly and Mousey. Being involved with little baby bears that are only two kilos, having to feed them from the bottle and watching them grow up … they are now healthy big adult females and males and have a huge group of friends.”
The rescue centre is a focal point for public education regarding bear conservation and welfare in Vietnam. It is also a fundamental aspect of the organisation’s campaign to raise global awareness. The continuing success of the non-profit organization is dependent upon international donations.
For more information, visit www.animalsasia.org