Find out more about Free the Bears.
About Free the Bears
Throughout Asia, bears are increasingly threatened by the activities of man. Trapped in crude wire snares, butchered for their body parts or caged for the extraction of their bile, they are one of the most highly sought-after species in an illegal trade that is decimating the regions wildlife.
Free the Bears (FTB) is a non-profit organisation working throughout Asia to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears. Through the creation and on-going support of world-class sanctuaries for the placement of rescued bears, FTB supports government authorities in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade which poses the single greatest threat to Sun bears, Sloth bears and Moon bears. Free the Bears also supports the protection of wild bear populations through a number of environmental education initiatives, sustainable alternative livelihood programs for impoverished families, Protected Area staff training courses, and ground-breaking conservation research programs to assist Protected Area managers in targeting interventions to aid wild bear populations.
In partnership with the Cambodian Forestry Administration, FTB has been working since 1997 to create a sanctuary for bears rescued from the illegal wildlife trade in Cambodia. Over the past 15 years more than 150 rescued bears have been given a safe home and the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre has grown into the world’s largest Sun bear sanctuary. A locally employed team of around 20 staff plus numerous casual labourers are employed at the Cambodian Bear Sanctuary which is visited by 250,000+ visitors each year. The rescued bears serve as ambassadors for their species, offering excellent opportunities to improve awareness of the threats facing Cambodia’s bears. Our Bear Discovery Centre and Trail is a unique interpretive facility to educate visitors and ensure that the demand for bear body parts in traditional medicine or restaurants becomes a thing of the past.
Beyond the sanctuary, since 2004 FTB has supported environmental education programmes in key areas of wild bear habitat throughout Cambodia with annual funding for the Kouprey Express Mobile Education Unit. This mobile education bus brings environmental education directly to communities living in and around Protected Areas, delivering classroom lessons to schoolchildren during the day and community night shows to entire villages in the evenings. Further support is also being given to enable former hunters to become forest guardians in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains through funding of community-based ranger teams to protect threatened forests and wildlife.
In India Free the Bears is working with Wildlife SOS, a Delhi-based non-governmental group who cooperate closely with the Indian State Forest Departments to rescue Sloth bears that are being exploited as “dancing bears”. Since 2002 more than 560 ‘dancing bears’ have been rescued with direct assistance from FTB, culminating in the rescue of the last known “dancing bear” in India in December 2009. The rescued bears have been given safe sanctuary in four facilities throughout the country that are supported by FTB for the life-long care of the bears who, due to injuries sustained at the hands of their former Kalandar masters, can never be returned to the wild.
The Indian “dancing bear” rescue was made possible by the provision of more than AU$1,000,000 by FTB to support alternative livelihoods for more than 500 impoverished Kalandar families who had previously relied on this exploitation of bears for their income. Kalandars have been given careers guidance, skills training and technical support in order to develop alternative livelihoods that do not involve the exploitation of wildlife, enabling them to send their children to school and move their communities towards a sustainable future.
Since 2003 Free the Bears has been working with the Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office and the Provincial Tourism Office to create a safe home for rescued bears at Tat Kuang Si, 30km outside of Luang Prabang. This sanctuary is home to 23 rescued Moon bears and is visited by more than 200,000 visitors each year.
Further afield, FTB is supporting nationwide mapping of wild bear populations throughout Laos in cooperation with Wildlife Conservation Society and the Department of Forest Resource Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Key areas of both protected and un-protected forest are being surveyed in order to determine the most critical sites for long-term conservation management of threatened bears in this little-known country. Local capacity to lead long-term conservation within Laos is being developed through our support of Lao MSc student scholarships to investigate bear conservation issues.
Recognising that the illegal wildlife trade and growing threat of bear bile farming in Laos poses a threat to the survival of bears and other endangered species within Laos, FTB is supporting the establishment of the Lao-Wildlife Enforcement Network (Lao-WEN) as part of the ASEAN-WEN initiative through sponsorship of conferences, workshops and training courses. FTB is also an active member of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Working Group in Laos, a unique partnership of public and private sector groups committed to ending the devastation of Laos’ natural heritage.
In Thailand Free the Bears has been supporting the creation of a sanctuary for rescued bears at the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT) Wildlife Rescue Centre in Petchaburi province. This sanctuary is now home to 28 rescued bears with FTB providing grants to WFFT on an annual basis for the construction of further facilities to house newly-rescued bears.
In Khao Yai National Park, FTB is working in partnership with FREELAND Foundation to provide environmental education to schoolchildren living around the park. Through Youth Camps and classroom visits, the “Paws for Thought” programme is creating awareness of the threats to Sun bears and Moon bears, building awareness of the vital role that they play in the forest ecosystem.
Since 2006 Free the Bears has provided financial and technical support to the Environmental Education and Recreational Facility (Kawasan Wisata Pendidikan Lingunan Hidup) in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. This centre is operated by the municipal authorities of Balikpapan and provides a home for five rescued Sun bears which serve as educational ambassadors for their species to thousands of visitors each year.
FTB has also supported research into Sun bear populations in Sumatra’s’ Kerinci Seblat National Park, as well as pilot rehabilitation efforts for rescued bear cubs.
In 2008, Free the Bears began supporting Wildlife at Risk with two sanctuary projects in Vietnam. FTB provided funding and technical expertise to the Cat Tien National Park in Dong Nai Province to redesign and radically expand their existing bear facility. Concurrently, in conjunction with the Kien Giang Forest Protection Department FTB established a wildlife rescue facility in Kien Giang province. Phase One of the programme was for the duration of three years and provided a home to bears rescued from the bile trade in Vietnam. FTB provided funds and direct support in terms of staff specifically for establishing this programme. Having successfully created a safe and modern rescue facility, the capacity of the rescue centre has recently been expanded to house not only bears but also other species of rescued wildlife.
Vietnam’s first targeted wild bear surveys were conducted by FTB in Cat Tien National Park to enhance our understanding of wild bear populations, building awareness of bear conservation issues and helping to raise the profile of bears in this important part of Vietnam.
If you would like to assist Wildlife Asia to support FTB projects please contact Clare Campbell, Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 438992325