Mission of Free The Bears: To protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout the world.
Mawson’s guardian Mark says: Today I am proud to talk about the book ‘Free The Bears’. It is the story of a rescue organisation which I have supported for twenty years. This fascinating and often heartbreaking read is about a long hard battle to better the lot of cruelly treated animals.
It is now widely known that for the sake of the supposed ‘properties’ of their bile thousands of bears have been imprisoned and cruelly treated. In Perth, Australia, one evening in 1993, Mary Hutton watched in horror as the first footage of the practice played on the TV. ‘It was the eyes that did it, those limpid black pools, pleading and frightened’. After weeks of sleepless nights she decided that she ‘had to do something’. But what? All she could think of was drawing up a handwritten petition and nervously standing in the local shopping centre.
‘Would you like to sign a petition to help the bears in China’, I said in a weak voice. ‘Too right I would, love! Just give me the bloody pencil’. .. After half an hour people were queuing to sign. Ch. 1
And so it began. A 55 year old housewife and mother soon found her name linked with the bears’ plight in newspapers, even Parliament. ‘What can we do to help?’, strangers began to ask. ‘It was then I realised I could not stop with this one petition .. I had to help free the bears, one step at a time’.
In the early days the small but fast growing group focused on raising money to direct to those on the ground, in particular Jill Robertson who later formed Animals Asia and who has done so much fine work. Out of the blue ‘Free The Bears’ was asked to help with little Sun bears in Cambodia and destined for a horrible fate (I will not describe it here: it still upsets me). This mission seemed impossible and was not helped by some idiocies of bureaucracy at the Australian end. But again, good people rallied: a member of Parliament, a television crew, an airline, Taronga zoo and many more. The saved bears, ‘Lucille’, ‘Victoria’, and ‘Mr Hobbs’ touched down in Sydney in 1997.
Since that time Free the Bears has worked ceaselessly, one step at a time, first in Cambodia then Laos and Vietnam, to build and run sanctuaries for the animals. Teaming with local groups and agencies, Free The Bears has helped raise awareness in these nations about their precious wildlife. Humans are helped too: some of the very villagers who, driven by extreme poverty, once poached bears, are now equipped and trained to be rangers, diligently protecting the wildlife in their territories.
Such was the success in Cambodia that Mary was approached in 2002 by Mrs Maneka Ghandi and Wildlife SOS of India. They wanted to do something both about the plight of sloth bears forced to ‘perform’ for tourists, and about the poverty of their owners, the Kandahar people. Could Free the bears help? Free the Bears did. More than five hundred bears later, a great day arrived in 2009.
I watch with a lump in my throat as Raju, the last known dancing bear of India, walks the road to freedom. This is animal welfare history in the making.
Mary speaks not just of the good days and successes but of the struggles, the disappointments, and of personal loss. We are also confronted, sadly, with the seeming unending capacity of some humans for the ghastly treatment of animals. Some of the rescued bears were so badly injured and weak they could not survive. Others had lost limbs, or had organ troubles, or had lost all their teeth, or were blind. Twenty six years after Mary Hutton stood up alone in that shopping centre, and despite all the work achieved by Free the Bears, and by similar organisations around the world, the need is as great as ever. Yet every single bear rescued can now live a safe and pampered life in a sanctuary.
The light is back in their eyes.
Ways to help: One way would be to buy and read this book and share it about. All proceeds go to the bears.
Where to find Free the Bears published by Pan Macmillan Australia (2013), ISBN13: 9781742611969. Please consider buying direct from FreeTheBears.Org. Here you can even get a signed copy; also merchandise like the cute teddies in my photos. A book or a teddy or a donation, or just sharing on this post: it all helps.
Writer Julie Miller is passionate about travel, animal welfare, and Thailand in particular.
Wildlife SOS does tremendous work with bears and elephants.
You have wandered into Mawson Bear’s web-den. Between naps in gardens, Mawson ponders about Baffling Things. He is the Writer-Bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In .