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 also been working in Laos since 2003, employing a range of strategies to ensure that bears are protected and survive for future generations. In particular, they have been working with the Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office to provide a safe sanctuary for rescued bears. The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre is currently Laos’ only dedicated centre for the placement of rescued bears.
Colchester Zoo Action for the Wild has donated £48,750 to Free the Bears since 2011. In 2022, we will be making an additional contribution of £7,000 to this important project; helping to combat the illegal trade in bears in Laos and put an end to bear bile farming.

In 2019, the government of Laos committed to finally resolving the issue of tiger farming and bear bile farming in their country. Free the Bears has been working in Laos since 2003, employing a range of strategies to ensure that bears are protected and survive for future generations. They are committed to providing safe sanctuary and life-long care for any bears rescued from bile extraction facilities, of which there are still around 100 bears in three to four farms.
With Colchester Zoo Action for the Wild’s support, the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary has been secured and is currently the primary depository for bears rescued from bile farms, as well as limited numbers of other species rescued as part of enhanced wildlife law enforcement efforts throughout northern Laos. Since 2003, more than 100 bears (98 Asiatic black bears and 4 sun bears) have been confiscated from poachers and wildlife traders or have been donated by people who had previously kept them as trophy pets, with 21 bears rescued in 2021 alone. Forest enclosures currently cover 35,000m2 at Luang Prabang  and two more enclosures, adding a further 7,000m2, are under construction.
Previously, Colchester Zoo Action for the Wild funding has been used to help secure the land, to address the housing needs of rescued bears and to increase water sustainability around the site. In 2022, our funding will be used to increase the security of the site. With more enclosures being built and the overall size of the sanctuary growing rapidly, Free the Bears need to install extra security cameras and solar lighting. Action for the Wild funding will be used to purchase 80  solar powered lights which will be placed along pathways, bear houses and holding pens so the night guards can perform their routine patrols adequately and serve as a potential deterrent to intruders. Currently more than 100,000 litres of rainwater is captured from the roofs of animal houses, ensuring sufficient supply through the wet season. In the dry season, the water is pumped to transport water from the lower valley area to the bear houses at higher altitude. In 2022, our funding will be used to further increase water sustainability; Action for the Wild will cover the cost of six solar powered pumps, so that water used in the bear  pools can be pumped through wetlands and cleaned so that it can be reused, halving the amount of water needed to empty and refill pools.
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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