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Free the Bears (FTB) has constructed a brand new, 60-acre wildlife sanctuary intended to provide vital support to the government of Laos’ efforts at ending bear bile farming and the illegal trade in threatened species. The Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary will also incorporate a dedicated Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit for orphaned bear cubs. Bears in Mind will finacially assist FTB with the construction of these important units. Bear houses, outdoor enclosures covering 15,000m2 have already been constructed, along with Quarantine facilities and a fully equipped wildlife hospital.

In order to increase capacity for the housing and rearing of rescued bear cubs, FTB will develop a new Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit within the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility will be modeled on the existing Cub Nursery located at FTB Cambodian Bear Sanctuary which has been in operation since 2013. The new facility will offer them the opportunity to receive and raise orphaned bear cubs in a safe and secure location, away from visitors and within the site that will most probably be the bears lifetime home.

Currently no specific facilities exist for the rearing of rescued bear cubs within Laos, meaning that cubs often have to be kept in temporary enclosures or even private homes if they require around-the-clock care. As they grow older, they have to be kept in temporary enclosures within the sanctuary, often in close proximity to adult bears which may harm them should they come into contact with one another. The planned facility will incorporate overnight accommodation for staff, making night-time feeds much easier, a clean and sterile environment for food preparation and daily husbandry of cubs such as weighing or toileting. A humidicrib used for human babies will be incorporated for the tiniest of cubs – essential in Laos where overnight temperatures can drop rapidly. Finally, as cubs grow older and become more independent, tailor-made play pens will allow them to develop their locomotion skills without the risk of harming themselves.

The ICU and cub rehabilitation center was finished in 2021!

The bear sanctuary ‘Tat Kuang Si’, managed by Free the Bears (FTB) provides shelter to many Asiatic black bears and Malayan sun bears. Most of these bears were confiscated and rescued at an early age from poachers by the government of Lao with help from FTB. More than 200,000 people from Lao PDR and abroad visit the sanctuary annually. Through an education program, visitors can learn more about both bears and the illegal trade in wildlife in Lao PDR.

Aside from the education program, research into human-bear conflict (HWC) was carried out in the field. These conflicts lead to people developing a negative attitude towards bears. Bears regularly seek food in the corn fields surrounding the national parks and can thus destroy a complete crop. Earlier research in 2010 showed that most villages were invaded regularly by bears looking for corn. Park rangers are trained to address these human-bear conflicts immediately and effectively. Bear sightings are reported through a special ‘hotline’.

The HWC study between 2011 and 2013 was funded by Bears in Mind.

FTB has been working actively in Southeast Asia for many years and has successfully tackled the problems in Lao PDR from the source. In 2011, FTB started a campaign in their bear sanctuary ‘Tat Kuang Si’ to raise awareness among the local population and the government concerning the issues wild bears are facing. FTB also reinforces legislation and offers hunters an alternative source of income.

With financial support from Bears in Mind, a mobile education and emergency bear rescue vehicle was purchased. It was also used for transportation of small groups from Luang Prabang to ‘Tat Kuang Si’ in order to join on-site education activities, used for the transportation of educators and equipment to remote areas or other provincial capitals for outreach work, and of course for bear rescue interventions.