The Bear Sanctuary at Tam Dao

Last weekend we took a trip up to Tam Dao National Park about two hours Northwest of Hanoi. Photos from our past trip up to the old French hill station can be seen in my previous post – Tam Dao Hill Station. This time we went without the hound as we were going to visit the Animals Asia Foundation’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre. The Centre, located in a beautiful valley in the buffer zone of the national park, opened in 2008 as a sanctuary for rehabilitated bears (both moon and sun – click for more information)  that have been rescued from bile farms around Vietnam.

One of the moon bears at the Sanctuary

Bear bile has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and in the past bears were killed for the whole gallbladder. It was only in the 1980s that entrepreneurs began keeping caged bears which then have their bile extracted daily. These bears live in terrible confined and unsanitary conditions where they are repeatedly probed with unsterilized needles until the gallbladder is found, as a result many of the bears develop infections and of course suffer severe mental trauma. In 1992, the Vietnamese Government banned the practice, but sadly some illegal bile farming continues because of the ongoing demand for bear bile in medicine, despite there being far more effective and safer synthetic alternatives.

A container where bears had been kept at bile farms

As of September 2012, the Rescue Centre has rescued 111 bears with 104 still living happily in the sanctuary. The Centre is doing a fantastic job rehabilitating the bears who, after quarantine and medical checks/treatment, are introduced gradually into the large enclosures with the existing bears. There they can live out the rest of their lives in a pleasant, stimulating and stress free environment. Their semi-natural enclosures have an array of climbing obstacles, hammocks and pools for cooling down in the summer. The team of Vietnamese keepers also ensure that they are fed in a stimulating and interactive way by scattering and hiding their fruit and vegetables around the enclosure. An education area also helps inform visitors both about the bears and the practice of bile farming.

Moon bears climbing in one of the four bear enclosures

Sadly, the Rescue Centre’s future is uncertain.

Please look at the Animals Asia website for more information. 

Three of the sun bears