It was late in the late evening of the 10th of December 2019 when we first heard about the 'Taxi bear' – the day before we went to rescue him. It was the most rapid rescue we have ever done and we were packed and were on our way by 8 am the following morning. The bear had been confiscated by local police in Vietnam after he was found in a tiny, metal cage on the back seat of a taxi. The bear was an Asiatic Black Bear, a species that is exploited in captivity for its bile to be used in Traditional Medicine.
As the animal manager at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh, it was clear to me that when we saw the pictures and a video of this poor bear, crammed in that tiny cage in the back of the taxi, that there was no question that he needed to be rescued – asap.
After a 5-hour journey, we arrived at the location of the police station where he had been taken after his confiscation. He had been sedated by the trader while he was in the tiny cage, but obviously the drugs had worn off overnight and the police were extremely worried he would escape, as the metal bars were only tied together with a piece of rope and he was becoming agitated and trying to get out. Before we arrived they had managed to get him into a slightly larger crate by putting his small cage inside it, tying the larger door up with electric wire and police handcuffs and then opening his small cage from within so he was able to crawl out. Although it was still extremely small for a bear, it meant he could at least sit up and breathe and was less likely to escape. If he had been left in the small cage I am sure he would have either escaped, or died. His body was so crushed in the small cage and we could see from the video we were sent that it was difficult for him to breathe.
They had wrapped some black material around the bars to create a visual barrier for him so he would remain more calm. Really the initiative and resourcefulness of the police was commendable and things would have turned out much differently if they had not done what they did. The bear was quite calm, although very scared, he huffed at us when we tried to take a closer look at him but, luckily, did not go crazy.
Its not always so fast, but we are prepared when it has to be
Luckily it is very rare to have to do a rescue at such short notice, we normally have at least 3 weeks’ notice. Apart from a truck for the transport cage, we have everything we need on site for a rescue and having carried out multiple rescues we can rally extremely fast. We have checklists of everything we may possibly need, from all the veterinary drugs and equipment to tools and technical equipment. So it’s not any different from doing any other rescue except that we move quicker.
What came next for Freddie
Within 24 hours of rescue Freddie was rolling around his quarantine area, playing with everything, friendly with the keepers, as though he had not been though any ordeal at all. Four months after his rescue, Freddie now lives with 6 other bears (James, Mui, Thom, Thia La, Ot, Bac Ha) he is extremely boisterous and playful and loves to wrestle the other bears.
The other bears in his group are quite a bit older than him (we cannot know his age but his health, dentition etc. suggests he is quite young), so it is good for him to be in the larger groups, each time one of the older bears gets tired from playing with him he can move on to the next one.
Freddie is able to forage or play or do as he pleases all day in one of our naturalistic outdoor enclosures. He is provided a healthy varied diet along with daily enrichment, as well as high quality veterinary care if he ever needs it. Caring and experienced keepers make sure that he has everything he needs and that he doesn’t ever have to go through what he went through ever again.
The importance of sanctuaries like Ninh Binh, and what the future brings
As well as providing appropriate and high quality care for rescued bears, we also raise awareness of the situation for bears and other wildlife in Vietnam. Many people who visit us have never heard of bile farming before. We can showcase what a good facility should entail. We also, by being able to receive bears provide the possibility for authorities to persuade bear farmers to give up bears or for bears to be confiscated. Without rescue centres to receive animals this is not possible.
"We hope to continue to expand and rescue more bears, contributing to the end of bear farming in Vietnam, whilst providing the highest standard of animal care."
Emily Lloyd, Animal Manager at BEAR SANCTUARY Ninh Binh
We hope inspire and educate people to care about animals both domestic and wild and their welfare, importance and conservation and to provide capacity building for Vietnamese to increase the level of knowledge and ability in this field in the country.