Free the Bears

Laos and Cambodia

Support started

Malayan sun bear and moon bear

The aim of the Free the Bears fund is to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world.

Annual donations to help develop the rescue centres and support their work with the bears.

Free the Bears has been working with the Cambodian Forestry Administration to provide a safe sanctuary for bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia since 1997. Today the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary is the worlds’ biggest sanctuary for sun bears, home to rescued bears housed in world-class forest enclosures. Additionally numerous sun bears have been sent to join cooperative breeding programmes in Australasia and Europe, including Colchester Zoo’s own pair of sun bears; Srey Ya and Jo Jo.

Free the Bears has been working in Laos since 2003. Since then, more than 120 bears have been confiscated or have been donated. As a result of strengthened law enforcement efforts, almost 80 bears have been rescued since work started on construction of the new sanctuary in 2017 now encompassing seven new Bear Houses plus 13 adjoining forest enclosures with a total of almost 50,000m2, including newly-developed pre-release enclosures to begin the process of trialling the processes required to successfully rehabilitate rescued bears in order to return them to the wild.
Colchester Zoo’s Action for the Wild has donated £55,750 to Free the Bears since 2011. In 2023, we will be making an additional contribution of £7,500 to this important project; £5,000 towards ultra low temperature freezer and £2,500 towards costs of employing a Lao veterinarian for laboratory and research work.

Development of Laos’ first fully-equipped veterinary hospital dedicated to wildlife commenced in 2018, with 200 general health checks on bears across Free the Bear’s sites in the past 15 months. Our funding will be used to purchase an ultra-low (-86 degrees) deep freezer unit to allow for long-term storage of samples to facilitate either bulk export or transfer to other labs within Laos for analysis. In the short-term this will permit research studies into areas such as female sun bear reproductive hormones while longer-term this will support storage of samples for DNA extraction which would greatly enhance capacity for screening rescued wildlife for a whole host of zoonotic diseases.
Since 2019, Free the Bears has been training the country’s first dedicated wildlife veterinarian who, with support from international veterinary specialists, has graduated to the level whereby he is able to conduct general health examinations independently and has already been called upon by the government to assist with monitoring of tiger farms. With funding, FTB plan to recruit a second veterinary graduate to continue this work and ensure they have more specialist wildlife vets being trained within Laos. Having a second Lao veterinarian will ensure the long-term sustainability of the Veterinary Care Programme should circumstances ever arise again in which it is not possible to have international veterinary support. £2,500 will cover 50% of the cost of employing a dedicated Lao veterinarian. This will move beyond simply provision of healthcare for the animals in the sanctuaries but also expand to conduct essential research work that will support conservation efforts in all areas from wildlife crime prosecutions to reinforcing wildlife populations and preventing zoonotic disease.
Free the Bears aims to create and support world-class bear sanctuaries managed to the highest level of welfare, to develop alternative sustainable livelihood programmes for the community to prevent impoverished families from exploiting bears for profit, strengthen wildlife law enforcement efforts through advocacy and training, protect wild bear populations through community-led efforts and increased understanding of wild bear populations, and build the capacity of local partners and staff.



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