Mission: The aim of the Free the Bears fund is to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world.
Species: Malayan sun bear and moon bear
Location: Laos and Cambodia
Support started: 2011
Donating: Approximately £5,000 annually
Find out more about our work with this project through our annual report:
Background: Throughout Southeast Asia, bears are highly threatened by an increasingly resource-hungry human population that is developing at a rapid rate. With the illegal wildlife trade continuing to threaten the survival of bears in this region, fuelled by demand within Southeast Asia and also China, now, more than ever, conservationists need to make informed decisions on how to end demand for bear products, protect wild bear populations and ensure that local communities are engaged in the protection of their natural heritage.
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. To date, over 190 bears have been confiscated from hunters and wildlife traders, or have been donated by people who had previously kept them as exotic pets. 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. The illegal trade in wildlife remains a primary threat to the continued survival of sun bears in Cambodia, while habitat loss through illegal logging and conversion of forests into agricultural land has led to the species increasingly being found in isolated pockets of remaining habitat. On average twelve bears are rescued and brought to the sanctuary each year, requiring ever-more housing and care.
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. This sanctuary is now overcrowded and the illegal trade in bears is running at levels higher than ever seen before. With no further opportunities to expand within Tat Kuang Si Park, Free the Bears has purchased 25ha of land to build a new sanctuary. This sanctuary needs to have adequate space for 150 bears as Free the Bears’ long-term goal is to end bear bile farming in Laos, as well as rescue any bears being illegally traded or trafficked.
The government of Laos has now committed to finally resolving the issue of tiger farming and bear bile farming in their country. The challenge now is to construct facilities for rescued wildlife as quickly and efficiently as possible in order that the government of Laos may begin the process of closing Laos’ bear bile farms. The closure of all bear bile farms (8-10 farms) will result in an estimated 152-185 bears needing to be housed and cared for.
Future objectives: Free the Bears Inc. will continue with its mission 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.